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The Emotional Triumph of Playwrights Living with HIV

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Anita Mann and Acting Gigs, Film Review, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy | 0 comments

Donja R. Love (seated center) and the playwrights of Write It Out! 2023.

You should know the end of the story first, because the ending demands to be heard. It took place last month in the largest event space at The LGBT Center in New York City, where hundreds of people were excitedly greeting each other, grazing at the food table or sitting in rapturous anticipation for a unique evening of theater.

Over the course of the next two hours, seven pairs of actors would take turns on stage, presenting individual scenes filled with insight, humor, and moments of joyful, sometimes painful truth.

The night was a triumph. There was laughter, emotional silences, nods of recognition and roars of approval. Those roars were only multiplied when, after the final scene, the playwrights who wrote the seven scenes were invited to the stage.

The playwrights were new to this. Some had never before written a theatrical scene. Some had traveled across the country to be there. And each and every one of them was living with HIV. They stood together, holding hands, while the packed audience cheered thunderously. It is a sound that would ring in the grinning playwrights’ ears for days to come.

Welcome to the climactic evening of “Write it Out!,” a program created by playwright Donja R. Love (One in Two) and co-facilitated by playwright Lee Raines, in which aspiring writers living with HIV are selected to participate in months of online sessions that teach the basics of playwriting. The program culminates with a two-person scene written by each writer that is presented to a public audience. Several past participants have developed their scenes into produced plays.

And if this intrigues you, regardless of your level of experience writing a play, then I suggest you visit the Write It Out! web site right now and find out more. There is no cost to participants because the program is generously underwritten by sponsors.

I was one of the playwrights standing on the stage at The Center last month. It still feels strange to even refer to myself as a playwright, but this program gave me the support and confidence to believe I could do it. A lot of that confidence comes from program leaders Love and Raines, who went far beyond simple instruction on technique. They convinced us all we had something to say, and that theater was the medium to say it.

Not every scene presented had HIV as a storyline. The only link between us as writers was that we were living with HIV (and not necessarily openly; the program respects everyone’s level of confidentiality). The themes of the scenes ranged from toxic masculinity to familial rejection to HIV disclosure to accepting your diagnosis.

My scene, “Present Tense,” allowed me to examine how white long-term HIV survivors can sometimes feel lost in our own movement, especially if we aren’t willing to examine our privilege or the ways in which the crisis has evolved. It addresses trauma, a search for meaning, and systemic and personal racism. All of that, in a scene lasting twelve minutes.

My most treasured feedback of the evening came from Black audience members who saw themselves and issues they cared about in my scene. It was a thumbs-up from a constituency that matters a lot to me. I also heard from audience members that they had never seen a long-term survivor presented as an antagonist, if not an outright villain. That was intentional and important to me. Yes, we as survivors can be ignorant and hurtful, too. Anyway, I’m working on an expansion of this work into a one-act play. Stay tuned.

For many years I have been fascinated with the intersection of art and HIV activism, as any reader of My Fabulous Disease knows well. And now there is another option, for anyone living with HIV who needs to unload or express themselves or examine their lives.

Just write it out.



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