Dancers Responding to AIDS
A Program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
The following letter was sent from Executive Director Tom Viola to all the dancers and volunteers working on Broadway Bares XXII: Happy Endings. Together we will raise more than $1 million through a wild and miraculous celebration, but it’s important to remind everyone that their health and safety is our top priority.
Dear Friends and all involved in Sunday’s Broadway Bares XXII: Happy Endings:
Over the last few weeks, Jerry, Michael Graziano and I, along with a few others who have been around Broadway Bares for a long time, have had a number of conversations about something very important to each of us: how essential the inclusion of a message and information about safer sex is to next Sunday’s “Happy Endings” edition of the show.
When this event was first created as Jerry and seven of his pals danced on the bar at Splash in 1990, AIDS had been racing through our community for nearly a decade. It tore a hole in our hearts as one beloved friend, partner, family member, neighbor, colleague and co-worker after another was ripped from our midst again and again. This would continue until 1996 with the advent of the anti-retroviral medications. That is nearly 15 years of horror. And if you were there, you know that word is not over-stated.
So here we are, another 15 years later. AIDS no longer has to mean a death sentence or a scourge inflicted upon any one community or group of people. But, without doubt, it is still around. The virus, though controllable, is still passed from friend to friend, between loving partners as well as “hook-ups” you may never intend to see again. When it is, life as you know it irrevocably changes. Emotionally and physically. How you see yourself, how you perceive that others see you and how they actually engage with you from the moment you learn of sero-conversion is a complicated equation. It is not worth 15 minutes of even the best sex you’ve ever had, let alone something you’ve forgotten about the next day.
Whether you know it or not, or even believe it, look around rehearsal or the dressing room on Sunday. Someone right next to you and many across the room are living with HIV. Some quietly, perhaps well; others in deep denial or shame. But my point is the AIDS virus continues to be passed. And it doesn’t have to be.
Now mistakes are made. Accidents happen. Foolish decisions of one type or another occur when we’re high, drunk, feeling bad, feeling invincible, too young to think it can happen, too “old” to think we matter any more. There is no blame. And truly there should be no shame. We are all human and imperfect.
What we do have, however, is the information to keep ourselves safe. And that is what I want to share with each of you today and remind you of on Sunday.
There are two pieces that I want everyone receiving this email to read. One is “Safer Sex” information as compiled by POZmagazine. The second is about a new drug called PEP that can, if a mistake is made, possibly help you to avoid sero-conversion.
Please review them both. And know that PEP does not in any way save you or absolve you from ignoring the responsible personal behavior outlined by “Safer Sex.” But it is information you should have if something occurs.
Please take care of yourselves. Broadway Bares is a joyous expression of the delight we can take in our sexuality, whatever its variety.
But with that heat, comes a responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other. Have fun. But be kind, even when it seems a flippant, careless or harsh word might seem screamingly funny or well-deserved by someone else.
Most of all, I hope you will arm yourselves with two things: Information and the self-esteem to access it.
In the meantime, please know that if you need help, there is help. Whether from The Actors Fund or any number of other organizations, Michael Graziano and I are always available to help you navigate those needs or those of a friend.
No one is alone in this experience. No one should feel less than or stigmatized by a virus. It is just that, a virus – not a character defect. But there are indeed consequences to every kind of personal behavior.
Please read the “Safer Sex” and PEP information. Think about it. And then dance and enjoy yourselves on Sunday night at Roseland as if you were going to be young forever. But that’s another story…and good luck with that.
With great affection and gratitude,