The inability to gather in person in New York City’s famed Theater District didn’t keep fans, stars and insiders from coming together to celebrate all things Broadway at the first virtual edition of the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction on Sunday, September 20, 2020. The digital day of auctions, meet-and-greets and theatrical treasure hunting raised a spectacular $316,282 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The day brought out the Broadway lover in everyone as they relished the opportunity to celebrate the theatrical community. Traditionally held on West 44th and West 45th Streets and in Shubert Alley, the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction landed online because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, this year’s virtual attendees still connected and shared meet-and-greet selfies and virtual Flea Market hauls on social media, gathered on Zoom for a unique live auction, and bid on and bought theatrical treasures online.
“While theaters remain dark, we wanted to bring a little light to everyone in the community: those onstage, backstage and in the audience,” said Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “And by doing so, we were able to welcome supporters around the world to celebrate the biggest day for Broadway fans with us. And while we wholeheartedly look forward to gathering again in person next September, the support of thousands online for our virtual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction shines that light on people in need across the country, giving them meals, medication and emergency assistance during these increasingly difficult days.”
Theater fans – whether they’re in the audience or on the stage – embraced the day. One Instagram user called it “an amazing experience” and “such a cool way for fans who aren’t in the NYC area to participate.” Another relished in her first Broadway Flea experience: “I had so much fun. I’m so glad you guys found a way for us to meet our favorite stars and be part of the day.”
Actor and producer Jenna Ushkowitz, who starred in Broadway’s Waitress and TV’s Glee, attended and volunteered at the in-person event as she was growing up. “I just had the most amazing hour chatting with friends who donated to Broadway Cares as part of the Broadway Flea Market, which is so near and dear to my heart,” Ushkowitz said. “It just means the world to connect with people right now. It was definitely a bright moment on my Sunday.”
This year’s highly anticipated live and silent auctions launched online. The silent auction, which contained treasures including signed Playbills, unique props and exclusive opening night gifts, raised $111,626. The top-selling items were a handwritten musical phrase from Waitress signed by Sara Bareilles for $7,900; Beth Leavel’s script from The Prom, complete with hand-scribbled notes, for $7,200; a handwritten “Sunrise, Sunset” musical phrase from Fiddler on the Roof signed by Sheldon Harnick for $4,150; and a handwritten musical phrase from Once on this Island signed by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for $4,100.
The live auction culminated in a friendly Zoom room bidding battle, hosted by Broadway and television favorite Bryan Batt and led by esteemed auctioneer Nick Nicholson. More than 100 excited bidders raised $160,000 for Broadway Cares. The most popular lots of the day were opening night tickets and party passes to see The Music Man starring Sutton Foster and Hugh Jackman for $19,000; an exclusive virtual meeting with Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Group and Broadway Cares Board of Trustees executive vice president, which went for $9,500; acclaimed lighting designer Jules Fisher’s 1990 Tony Award for Grand Hotel for $8,500; and, tied at $7,000, the framed cover page to the score of New York State of Mind signed by Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand and a “Let it Go” musical phrase from Frozen handwritten and signed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and also signed by Tony Award winner Idina Menzel.
Shifting from the beloved autograph table and photo booth, exclusive one-on-one video meet-and-greets with Broadway stars were offered through the app Looped. The Broadway favorites making more than 200 video calls were Alex Brightman, Lilli Cooper, DeMarius Copes, Gavin Creel, Colin Donnell, Andrew Barth Feldman, Karla Puno Garcia, Celia Rose Gooding, Adrianna Hicks, Taylor Louderman, Lesli Margherita, Isabelle McCalla, Ryan McCartan, Rob McClure, Abby Mueller, Patti Murin, Eva Noblezada, Samantha Pauly, Andrew Rannells, Jelani Remy, Krysta Rodriguez, Kyle Selig, Jenna Ushkowitz, Marisha Wallace, Adrienne Warren and Patrick Wilson.
And, to digitally recreate the tables of theatrical memorabilia lining the streets from Broadway shows and theatrical organizations, Broadway Cares offered two unique opportunities to purchase Broadway swag.
First, leading up to the Flea Market and on the day of the event, Broadway Cares’ eBay page launched its “FleaBay,” a series of special Buy It Now items. The selections included bundles of mystery Playbills including one signed Playbill, T-shirts from the out-of-town Denver run of Frozen and cast-signed ballet slippers from Cats.
Then, on the day of the virtual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, Broadway Cares presented its “Flea Market finds,” a series of unique Broadway bundles that generated 899 individual donations. The bundles represented Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen, Frozen, Hadestown and Wicked, as well as organizations Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers and the Broadway Makers Alliance, and a bundle of special opening night gifts.
And, in addition to these offerings, Broadway Pins collaborated with Broadway Cares to create the custom Broadway Cares Ghostlight Pin. The 1.5-inch tall pin features a classic theatrical ghostlight draped by Broadway Cares’ iconic red ribbon. More than 400 pins have been sold already and they are still available for purchase at broadwaypins.com.
Every dollar donated during the virtual Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction helps those across the country affected by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other critical illnesses receive healthy meals, lifesaving medication, emergency financial assistance, housing, counseling and more. The donations also support and champion organizations focused on social justice and anti-racism.