A theatrical exploration of living with HIV/AIDS
By Summer Olsson
There are more than 33.3 million people in the world living with HIV, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations program on HIV/AIDS. Its 2010 report also notes that because treatments have advanced, the mortality rate has gone down and the number of people living with the disease worldwide has increased. The 2010 New Mexico HIV Surveillance Report, published by the HIV & Hepatitis Epidemiology Program, cited 3,290 New Mexicans known to be living with the virus at the end of 2009.
“Creating a play about HIV, which has such a huge stigma around it, has made me focus a lot on creating a play that is sincere and honest without falling into clichés.”
Skye Fort, producer and director
A new performance, Voices Behind the Virus, created by AmeriCorps volunteers and local artists, tells the multifaceted but often-unheard stories of individuals dealing with the day-to-day ramifications of having the virus. Interviews with HIV-positive New Mexicans were conducted over several months. The interview material was learned verbatim by actors, then incorporated into a script that also contains original material and movement pieces. The result is a kaleidoscope of perspectives and emotions, designed to increase knowledge of the disease and also highlight its survivors.
Skye Fort and Diana Delgado are the actor/creators behind local performance group Toaster Puppy Productions. The duo, known for original work, was approached by AmeriCorps volunteers to construct, produce and direct Voices Behind the Virus. The members of the AmeriCorps team working on the project are involved in HIV-related fields, which means they were able to contact interview candidates. “We were really fortunate, because most of the people who came forward to be interviewed are used to talking about being HIV-positive,” Fort says via email. “The interviews are open and honest, they reveal a lot about what it means.”
A main goal of the performance, says Fort, is to bring HIV/AIDS to the forefront of people’s minds. It’s important to practice safe sex and be regularly tested. To that end, there will be free, anonymous testing for an hour before and after the performances, which run one night apiece in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The experience of piecing together interviews and working with such intense subject matter has also been creatively enriching for Fort and her collaborators. “Artistically, I have learned a lot about honesty,” she says. “Creating a play about HIV, which has such a huge stigma around it, has made me focus a lot on creating a play that is sincere and honest without falling into clichés.”
It’s important to Fort that people know the show is not entirely bleak. She shared a piece of text from the end of the play, taken from an anonymous individual’s interview:
“Every day since my diagnosis, I have gained more clarity. Who I am. What I want in life. What is most important to me. Who is most important to me. What I want in a friend. What I want in my partner. My goals. My dreams. My present. My future. All of it continues to become so clear,” the survivor says. “That cliché of living every day like it is your last really resonates with me. If I really had just this one day to live, I would want to live it with purpose, with stability, and with passion. The small stuff, the daily drama does not get to me like it used to. It is a breath of fresh air to have more of this inner peace.”
Voices Behind the Virus
Thursday, May 19, 7 p.m.
1614 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe
(505) 989-4423, warehouse21.org
Friday, May 20, 8 p.m.
The Filling Station
1024 Fourth Street SW
Tickets: $10 suggested donation
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