Oscar Night In Hartford: Dressing Up For A Cause At Spotlight Theaters

Suits, tuxedos, gowns, skirts and costumes dominated the scene at the Red Carpet Experience Sunday at the Spotlight Theatres in Hartford.

But Bill Carr’s choice of clothing — his dress uniform from the U.S. Marine Corps — stood out in the crowd.

Carr, a retired sergeant from Westboro, Mass., who served just after World War II and in Korea, was accompanying his daughter Joanne Tatro, who was volunteering at the event.

“I’m just enjoying the scene,” said Carr, 89, who would go on to take a turn on the red carpet with Tatro and delight the standing-room-only crowd with a rendition of the “Marines’ Hymn.”

The scene featured a VIP reception including red carpet interviews freelance journalist Mary Ellen Fillo and and WTNH’s Teresa Dufour, food from Hartford-area restaurants and vendors, music, a fashion contest, photography sessions, hair and makeup touch-ups, a silent auction and viewing of the 90th annual Academy Awards on televisions and in a private cinema.

The event, founded more than 20 years ago, is put on to raise money and awareness for AIDS Connecticut, or ACT, an organization that provides assistance to people affected by HIV through care, supportive services, housing, advocacy and prevention.

“It’s just blossomed over time,” said Shawn M. Lang, ACT’s deputy director, who recalled that event co-founders Peter Shapiro and NPR’s Colin McEnroe staged the first one at theater at Trinity College.

Lang said the event draws politicians from around the state, restaurateurs, corporate sponsors, local celebrities, people from the LBGT community and those who just want to help, and they keep coming back year after year.

“Once they become a part of our family they’re a part of our family,” she said.

For Lang the event is as important as ever as the stigma and fear of AIDS fades somewhat publicly.

“It’s important to keep putting a spotlight on it,” said Lang, pointing out that the stigma continues in the black and Latino communities, which also have the fastest growing segment of young men with AIDS.

The key, she said, is to provide that population, with education, awareness and support, which is her organization’s goal.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin agreed.

“It’s a great tradition and a great way to spend a night having fun on Hartford’s own red carpet, while raising funds to help improve the lives of those living with HIV or AIDS — and to support the important work of slowing and hopefully stopping the spread of HIV,” he said.

Tatro, an interior designer from Putnam, said it was her first time volunteering for the event, said she just likes to “help out in the community.”

As for taking a turn on the red carpet with her dad in his Marine Corps uniform and having their photograph taken together, Tatro said “I’ll cherish that picture for the rest of my life.”

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