By Tamara Juarez, April 2017 Issue.
Aunt Rita’s Foundation, Arizona’s leading HIV/AIDS advocacy group, is rolling out the red carpet for its first fundraiser of the year: RED is the Night, an evening of entertainment that will make you feel like a Hollywood celebrity.
The inaugural event, set for March 24, will include a special appearance by six-time Emmy Award-winner Bruce Valinch, the internationally-renown troupe Scorpius Dance Theatre, local “auctiontainer” Letitia Frye and Phoenix’s own “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore.
“RED is the Night is all about fantastic entertainment,” said Glen Spencer, Aunt Rita’s Foundation executive director. “We wanted to entertain our donors and the people who are coming to our event with quality performances.”
The evening will also include a silent auction featuring a wide variety of autographed items, many of which have been autographed by noteworthy actors and actresses.
Proceeds from RED is the Night will be divided equally among Aunt Rita’s 16 partner agencies, which include the Bill Holt Clinic, McDowell Healthcare Center, HEAL International, Chicanos Por La Causa, Ebony House and one•n•ten among others.
Each organization provides a variety of critical services for HIV/AIDS patients, such as medical care, treatment services, case management, HIV prevention education, counselling and HIV testing.
According to Spencer, RED is the Night, and similar fundraising events that take place throughout the year, are critical.
“Federal funding for HIV and AIDS support is not growing, and the HIV-positive population is ...,” he said. “It’s very important that these events exist to keep the awareness around the HIV epidemic in the forefront of people’s minds.”
Since 2013, the number of identified HIV/AIDS cases has increased by 1,551 total patients, and a total of 17,349 Arizonans have HIV/AIDS, according to the latest report by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Last October, the Phoenix City Council unanimously voted to join the United Nation’s Fast Track Cities “90-90-90” Initiative, which aims to strengthen HIV/AIDS programs and end AIDS as a health threat by the year 2030. The three-pronged initiative focuses on achieving three goals: Getting 90 percent of HIV patients diagnosed, 90 percent of diagnosed patients medicated and 90 percent of treated HIV patients to safely suppress the virus.
“At a time when the city of Phoenix has … become a UN Fast-Track City and adopted the 90-90-90 goal,” Spencer explained, “this event, as well as other HIV and AIDS funding events, become an additional opportunity for outreach and awareness.”
Scorpius Dance Theatre
With its unique blend of aerial acrobatics, contemporary dance, theatrical elements and original stories, Scorpius Dance Theater has captivated audiences for more than 17 years. Each performance is sexy and elegant as it explores a wide array of human emotions and experiences with a style that’s distinctly their own.
For its exclusive performance at Aunt Rita’s RED is the Night, Scorpius Dance Theatre has prepared a 30-minute repertoire from its most-recent productions: Rock, Kick-A Showcase and Catwalk.
“We, as artists, are very supportive of this community, and we wanted to reach out and share our art with them,” said Lisa Starry, Scorpius’ artistic director. “It’s great to work with Aunt Rita’s and help raise as much money as possible for other nonprofits.”
Gavin Sisson, Scorpius dancer and assistant director, said he is excited to partner with Aunt Rita’s.
“As a gay man who has a few HIV positive friends, and lost some friends due to the AIDS epidemic, it’s important for me to be involved in the community as an artist,” he said. “I think our mission coincides a little bit. We are both nonprofits and are always reaching out to the community.”
Scorpius and its members have been involved in numerous charity projects and received a variety of recognition for their advocacy work and contributions within the local community.
Still, one of the dance company’s main goals is to become more inclusive and attract a wider range of people who may be intimated by the abstract nature of modern dance.
“We have lots of theme shows that are open in all areas and concepts,” Starry said. “We’re open to anybody, and were not a reserved company that only a certain kind of group goes to watch. I think that’s why Aunt Rita’s felt so comfortable with us, because we weren’t afraid to perform about different subjects, and they really liked that openness about us as artists.”
Scorpius Dance Theatre will take the RED is The Night stage beginning at 8 p.m. For more information, visit scorpiusdance.com.
Bruce Vilanch to bring signature brand of comedy to HIV/AIDS benefit
Veteran Academy Awards writer, TV personality, Broadway actor and all-around funny guy Bruce Vilanch has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS support and education for decades – a cause that he holds dear in his heart.
In addition to his service as a board member for the nonprofit organization Aid for AIDS in Los Angeles, Vilanch just partnered with Aunt Rita’s for the first-ever RED is the Night fundraiser.
“We’re thrilled to have Bruce Vilanch headline the event and deliver his unique brand of comedy,” said Glen Spencer, Aunt Rita’s Foundation executive director.
Echo Magazine caught up with Vilanch ahead of his visit to the Valley and here’s what he had to say.
Echo: What motivated you to participate in Aunt Rita’s RED is the Night event?
Vilanch: I have done 150 million AIDS events by actual count. When the epidemic started about 30-something years ago, we started doing benefits because the show business community was being so heavily affected. We were all losing friends and we didn’t [know] what it was – it hadn’t even been isolated then, the virus. We just knew the government wasn’t doing anything about it, and that the nature of the thing was turning the gay community into a pariah, and we had to take steps to correct that, and we also had to take steps to save our loved ones. So what do we do when something like that happens in show business? We do a show! We … started doing these fundraisers and, as a result, I wound up doing a lot of shows for a lot of volunteer organizations like Aunt Rita’s Foundation.
Echo: Why are these types of events important to you?
Vilanch: When you grow up gay and Jewish in America, you learn three things: a lot of people hate you, no one’s going to help you, and so you have to do it for yourself ... As a community, this is how we survived for almost 6,000 years. We take care of our own, and this is a great mantra for the gay community. Once we adopted it, things got better when we realized we had to do it for ourselves.
Echo: What advice would you give to young people, in general and about the virus?
Vilanch: Well, in general I would tell them, “you have the most fabulous source of information, literally at your fingertips! Go online and start googling your history and see what came before you and what people did about it and how you can be a part of it.” ... It’s very important now that people get a historical sense of what’s going on, because otherwise it’ll sneak up on you and bite you in the ass. And unless you enjoy being bitten in the ass, which many do, it’s not the most wonderful sensation in this regard. There is no safe word.
Echo: What projects are you currently working on?
Vilanch: I’ve written a musical, which we did at a theater in Connecticut last summer, and it was a big hit. We’re going to bring it to Broadway, and it’s all the music of Patula Clarke, who was a big star in the ‘60s and had a lot of songs you still know today: “Downtown,” “I Know a Place” and “Call Me.” It’s an original story, not about her but with all her music, so think “Mama Mia.” Please think Mama Mia, because that ran 12 years. [laughs]
Echo: What is it like writing for the Oscars?
Vilanch: It’s a wonderful show to write for. It’s like playing in the Super Bowl every year. In fact, sponsors say it’s the Super Bowl of female appeal. It’s always fun to write for, because it’s a big show and it’s live. People who never go to the movies watch it. Even people who never watch TV watch it. That’s the most amazing thing. It’s a phenomenon ... In the past, I’ve written for 23 of them, so I have quite a lot of experiences. I’m writing a book also about all of that so I can put all those experiences between covers …
Echo: What advice would you give to an aspiring professional writer?
Vilanch: You just have to follow your muse. Writing is something that your body tells you it wants to do, your soul tells you it wants to do it, it’s the way you express yourself. So I think the people who are really writers don’t need to be told to write, but I think they need to be told not to give up when they don’t get acceptance ... If you really want a tip, a writerly tip, I’ll give you a tip that Neil Simmons gave me, which is, never leave the writing table without something to write tomorrow.
Echo: You write for a lot of different people, but how would you define your brand of humor?
Vilanch: Funny. [laughs] It’s very important for a brand of humor to be funny. A lot of people don’t hit funny. They do comedy, but they never get funny. They’re conceptual, but they’re just never funny. I like to be funny. I like the humor that actually makes people laugh.
Echo: What message do you have the people of Phoenix?
Vilanch: I hope they will come to the show. We will laugh, have a good time and raise money for a good cause.
RED is the Night
6 p.m., VIP Reception
7 p.m., cocktails, dinner & silent auction
8-10 p.m., entertainment
Warehouse 215 @ Bentley Projects
215 E. Grant St., Phoenix