HIV/AIDS in Broadway

What is Broadway?

Located in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, USA and West End Theatre in London, UK, Broadway is the origin to many of the musicals and plays that everyone are most familiar with today such as Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, RENT, A Chorus Line, and Grease. Broadway was created in the 18th century as service to the mass as a form of entertainment. Through the centuries of Broadway’s existence the theatre attracted an audience of various backgrounds regarding races, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexuality. As of recent, statistics provided by Broadway industry website ‘The Broadway League’ show that of the 13.3 million attendees of Broadway shows in New York City over the past season that:

  • 18% of attendance comes from natives of New York City.
  • 61% of attendance comes from tourists with 46% of the 61% being from the United States and the remaining 15% being tourists from countries around the world
  • 66% of the audience were females.
  • The average age of theatregoers was about 42 years old.
  • 23% of all tickets were bought by non-Hispanic white people.

Given these statistics it is proven that the community of Broadway is diverse and possess the variety to contain members within the community that have an uncommon background such as those who are victims of HIV/AIDS that are fans of what Broadway has to offer.

HIV/AIDS in Broadway

Learning about the United States HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980’s-90’s I’ve come to know that there was a large presence of the LGBT population within the city of New York that were apart of the community of theatregoers that enjoyed the arts. The reasoning behind there being a large presence of the LGBT population is because of cultural norms and perspectives among Americans that still carryout to date. It was and is still very common for men to not be the majority of an audience of any form of play whether it be a drama, comedy, or musical. It is argued by Masculinity and Femininity: Their Phsychological Dimensions, Correlates, and Antecedents author Janet Spence that “A frequent conviction … sex-role behaviours are not merely correlated with physchological characteristics and sexual proclivities but they also have casual interconnections.” (11) Then Janet proceeds to provide an example such as “Parents [of boys] insist that their children behave according to traditional sex-role standards [like playing with] the ‘right’ kind of toys.” (11) and “boys who are taught to cook … will be robbed of their masculinity.” (11) Due to societal expectations and norms it is viewed as effeminate for men to enjoy things such as theatre. The Family Coordinator authors Jack Balswick and Charles W. Peek argues that “The problem of what it means to be “male” and “female” is a problem which is faced and dealt with in its own way in every society, Through cross-cultural research one now surmises that culture rather than ‘nature’ is the major influence in determining the temperamental differences between the sexes.” (363) Therefore many heterosexual men do not partake in going to see plays out of fear of criticism by their peers of simply the lack of interest due to the hive mind esque lifestyle of disliking something because of the stigma around it.

I learned through my research that in wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, many playwrights, renowned within the Broadway community such as Jonathan Larson, Robin Swados, and Tony Kushner being examples, brought attention of the HIV/AIDS epidemic metaphorically and literally to centre stage by creating plays that depicted the hardship many people of various backgrounds are going through and putting a theatrical spin on them. Of the victims represented in the plays performed on Broadway, the reoccurring community represented in these plays is the LGBT community. Also in my research I learned that the plays that resonate to date within the Broadway community that represented the LGBT community were ‘RENT’ and ‘Angels of America’.

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