A Cycle of Giving: Zoë Morsette, Broadway Cares’ The Broadway Bears, and The Actors Fund
When people hear the term “Broadway Bears,” many minds immediately conjure images of “Broadway Bares,” the more…shall we say…exposed Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraiser. But for fourteen years, BC/EFA has been raising money through The Broadway Bears, the annual teddy bear auction for which some of the industry’s most talented theatrical craftspeople recreate some of theatre’s most memorable characters. The event, which takes place this year on Sunday, March 6 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, has a devoted following, and regularly raises thousands of dollars for BC/EFA’s services. The 2010 auction, for example, raised $101,095. (Note: BC/EFA is the largest funder of The Actors Fund. In 2010, they provided more than $3.4 million to support our programs and services!)
One of The Broadway Bears’ regular designers, Zoë Morsette, celebrates her 10th creation in March, having built a 2011 bear sporting a look from the 1974 production of Jerry Herman’s musical Mack & Mabel. Based on the costume design by Patricia Zipprodt, Zoë’s Mabel Normand bear is taken from the scene in which the character is being directed astride a fake horse in a silent Western. The bear is signed by the show’s star, Bernadette Peters.
A devoted and generous soul, Zoë is a longtime member of New York’s entertainment community. A theatrical craftperson, she’s done props, costumes, models, sculpting, displays, events, and more. She’s worked on more than 37 Broadway shows (her most recent credits include The Addams Family and Shrek), regularly works for Macy’s (she’s built more than 600 items for the company’s parades and events), and has worked for numerous films and television shows, including Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, for which she’s built some fabulously crazy things.
Zoë first became part of The Broadway Bears world when she noticed friends of hers had made some creations for the auction. She leapt at the chance to do something that would raise so much money for an organization she admired.
“I thought, ‘I want to do this—it looks like fun!’” says Zoë. “I also did it in honor of all the friends I ‘d lost. I could never give [Broadway Cares] a donation of thousands of dollars, but so far my bears have brought in over $34,000. So, that’s huge for me.”
When she first began designing bears for BC/EFA, she never dreamed she would find herself in need of help, but three years later, Zoë was diagnosed with cancer. As an independent craftsperson, she was unable to work while undergoing chemotherapy, so she turned to The Actors Fund, which paid for one month’s rent and health insurance. The Fund also connected her with The Episcopal Actors’ Guild, which covered her for two more months.
The Actors Fund’s social services also supported Zoë through that incredibly difficult time. Among other things, her social worker Carol Mannes (who’s now retired) encouraged her to utilize Cancer Care (which helps pay transportation costs to and from treatment) and join Gilda’s Club. To this day, she continues to take advantage of some of The Fund’s special programs.
“That’s why their social services are so good,” says Zoë. “They don’t just give you money, they stay behind you. They give you social services for moral support—who to call, what agencies might be able to help you beyond what they can do—and because they deal with it so much, they know what people need. The best part is, it relieves the stress of how you’re going to pay the rent and not lose your insurance when you’re in treatment. I knew that those bills were covered, so I could relax a little bit and just deal with getting better.”
And of course, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the largest financial supporter of The Actors Fund, and also donates to The Episcopal Actors’ Guild.
“It actually makes me feel good to think that I have brought in money that helps refill the fund,” says Zoë, “and to help other people that are in the same, or worse, situations than I was.”
Zoë beat her cancer, got back to work, and continues to build her bears every year. Among her favorite creations are Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast, Pumbaa from The Lion King (a complicated collaboration on which she worked for more than 200 hours), and Milky White the Cow from Into the Woods, which she built during her chemotherapy.
“It was wonderful because I wasn’t allowed to work, because a lot of my work is too physical. But the bear was not, and I needed a project. It totally absorbed me and kept me going. I find that doing them is very therapeutic for me. I can pour everything into it and make it as beautiful as I possibly can.”
Always dealing with the ups and downs of the industry—as most do—Zoë has used her slow work periods to give back to The Actor’s Fund in other ways as well, participating in 2004′s Nothing Like a Dame and regularly taking part in the Revlon Run/Walk (she was featured in the documentary Mira Nair shot during the 2010 event).
“When I have been unemployed, I find that it’s wonderful to be able to volunteer for a really useful organization,” says Zoë. “It never hurts you to help other people, and it usually makes you feel better. And I’ve always found that if I do things like this, I meet people. I even meet people who can maybe help me get work—that wasn’t the intention—but it keeps your name out there and people knowing who you are.”
But The Broadway Bears event is still Zoë’s favorite.
“I think it’s one of the best parties in town, you know,” says Zoë. “There’s an open bar, desserts, and a great show!”
The Broadway Bears XIV takes place on Sunday, March 6, 2011, at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 West 42nd Street. To purchase tickets, call (212) 840-0770 ext. 229. VIP entry is $150, and includes a private bear preview (with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres), and reserved seating at the auction (with dessert and cocktails). General admission tickets are $35, which includes dessert, cocktails, and unreserved seats at the auction (doors open at 7). The auction begins at 8pm.
POST-AUCTION UPDATE: Congratulations to BC/EFA! The Broadway Bears XIV raised a total of $103,905! Zoë’s Mack and Mabel bear sold for $3,800, raising her 10-year total to $38,200! Visit Broadway Cares’ website for a complete run-down of the evening.
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