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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 10, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 50
The Infection Monologues challenges our perception of HIV/AIDS
Arts & Entertainment
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The Infection Monologues challenges our perception of HIV/AIDS

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

This is difficult. The discussion around HIV/AIDS is controversial at best. The infection - which has been with us for nearly 30 sobering years - changed the world and the Gay movement forever. Regardless of how or why we discuss HIV, the fact remains that we need to do just that - discuss, discuss, discuss. The open and honest dialogue must never end.

On December 6, Gay City, Pride Foundation, and the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs presented the Seattle premiere of The Infection Monologue... because the story's not over.

The inspirational piece breaks news ground on the way we understand HIV infections among Gay men, HIV stigma, and living with HIV. Performed at the Erickson Theatre off Broadway, Michael D. Bowers, Gerald Smith, Collin McCabe, Lark Ballinger, Alex Garner, Andrew Murray, and Gavin Reub took the audience on an hour-long journey through the lives of seven men from when they first learned of their HIV-positive status, through their pain and anger, and their eventual self-discovery and understanding of what it means to live and love as a poz man.

First written and performed in San Francisco in 2005, the Seattle version of The Infection Monologues expands the narrative of living with HIV nearly 30 years into the epidemic. The original script was significantly modified and expanded, adding new characters written by local Queer artists, including Vincent Kovar, who teaches writing, literature, and communications and film at Antioch and Phoenix universities; Chad Goller-Sojourner, a Seattle-based poet and spoken-word performance artist; and Cole Arden Peake, a Queer-identified spoken-word performer living and working in Seattle.

Manual R. Cawaling, executive director of Youth Theatre Northwest, directed The Infection Monologues. The principal writers were Eric Rofes, a longtime educator and activist who died in 2006, and Alex Garner, an actor, writer, and activist living in Los Angeles.

Throughout the presentation, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - don't misread; I mean that in a good way. I knew that I wanted to see the performance - even if I walked away feeling depressed, I thought, I'll still feel good about having seen it. Well, through the talented acting, thoughtful writing, and little fanfare, I am happy to say I walked away enlightened and, well, shocked.

I appreciated that The Infection Monologues was penned by Gay writers and intended for all audiences. Little to no time was spent on explaining why or how Gay men hook up in public bathrooms or at bathhouses or even why we randomly take a stranger home after a night of clubbing. As far as sex was concerned, they approached it as it happens because it does. That's not to say that they didn't discuss why some Gay men, regardless of how educated we may or may not be about HIV/AIDS, engage in unsafe sex. Through characters that are as deep as an ocean (body image issues, sexual addiction, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.) the audience could see a little - or a lot - of themselves in each character. I was glad to have invited a friend to watch The Infection Monologues & this was the kind of performance where you needed to hold someone's hand. The Infection Monologues is not intended to be a vehicle for prevention messaging or political action; its purpose is to present a range of experiences of what it's like to live with HIV in 2010. Funny and thought-provoking, The Infection Monologues challenges the way we think about the contemporary HIV experience.

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