Theater is a temporal art; shows open, shows close and we move on. New York City is constantly changing; midtown has recently lost some of our favorite haunts with Cafe Edison, Colony Music and McHale’s Bar and Grill closing. Last year I retired and gave up most of my possessions to live in a smaller place. I moved on. Change is our status quo.
There is one painful memory where I find moving on isn’t so easy; it was too monumental. During the eighties and nineties, the Theater Industry was devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We lost Producers, Directors, Choreographers, Designers, Actors, Crew and more. The Stage Managers’ Association was started after a number of Stage Managers banded together to try to help colleagues who were suddenly incapacitated due to this unknown disease. I was one of those Stage Managers. We would go through a list of people suffering and note who needed food, who needed a hospital visitor and who had disappeared. It was common to have good friends just disappear, never to be heard from again. Most came to New York because they didn’t fit in at home; many were forced to return home to die with the families that had shunned them. Others, many others were at the city morgue.
What would Broadway look like now if all the victims had survived? How many hits would Michael Bennett have directed? How many shows would Howard Ashman have written? Here is a link to a partial list of those we lost, but due to privacy laws there is no definitive directory and just these few names are devastating. In 1991 alone, the total casualties from HIV/AIDS were near 20,000. The Broadway Community banded together to create The Producers Group (later known as Broadway Cares), Meals On Wheels, Equity Fights AIDS, and such. We were living in a war zone, triaging the new cases as we mourned the deaths.
The face of New York is different now. There are new young people who are Producers, Directors, Choreographers, Designers, Actors, Crew and more. Most of them have only heard about HIV/AIDS from television or if they saw “The Normal Heart.” Urban planners are building The NYC AIDS Memorial downtown, however it doesn’t address the specific devastation of Broadway’s talent pool.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if the Broadway Community rallied together and established a permanent Memorial in Duffy Square as a tribute to those of us who died too soon? Even just a plaque could serve as a reminder. Broadway is so adept at Opening Night greetings, Sunday potluck brunches and entertaining skits. Let’s stand up for something more substantial. Why not use our power to commemorate our departed friends who were victims of this horrible disease during Broadway’s darkest days? They lived their lives rushing across Duffy Square to rehearsals and performances. Future generations should be reminded of their loss at this crossroads of the theater district.
If you agree with me, please help me get word out by sharing this on social media and emailing it to friends.