This year the Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance organized the second annual World AIDS Day performance to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a nonprofit organization that, since 1988, has raised more than $175 million for vital services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. The idea to organize the performance came after seeing productions of The Vagina Monologues and Voces (a celebration of Hispanic artists) at Juilliard in 2008. Both performances were cross-divisional and had an informative and celebratory element that was powerful and poignant. With the help of students, faculty, and staff, the World AIDS Day event has evolved from a small studio performance to a full scale production in Paul Hall, raising more money than ever before.
The World AIDS Day performance uses the performing arts to encourage a dialogue about the ever-evolving issues surrounding the AIDS virus, and brings forth voices from artists around the world who are interconnected by the effects of this disease. The virus, originally known as the “Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” or GRIDS, has grown over the past 30 years into one of the leading causes of death around the world; in 1982 it acquired the more inclusive acronym AIDS (short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Yet many people are ignorant of the reality that the AIDS virus is attacking every corner of the world. We are no longer dealing with a “gay-man-New York City” virus, but rather a “man-woman-black-white-Asian-Latino-gay-straight-global” epidemic. The members of the Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance wanted the evening to reflect the enormous scope of those affected by H.I.V. and AIDS.
The first celebration of Worlds AIDS Day was on December 1, 1988, and was themed “communication” by the Joint United Nations Programme on H.I.V./AIDS, or UNAIDS, the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive, and coordinated global action on the H.I.V. epidemic. In 2005, the World AIDS Campaign took on the responsibility of the day, which has since been themed “Stop AIDS. Keep the promise.” We are often overwhelmed by what the AIDS epidemic has come to mean in our world, but we must continue the conversation without losing sight of how much progress has been made. This is why the theme for this year’s performance at Juilliard was “Look back with love. Look forward with hope.”
The performance, which took place on December 6, was composed of material with content that was inspired by the AIDS epidemic. A monologue from Peter Barne’s Red Noses (a play about the black plague) followed an original composition from Juilliard student Jeremy Beck that set Mark Doty’s poem “Faith” to music. Another poem, “Truth,” written by a student in Africa, was performed alongside William M. Hoffman’s As Is, one of the first plays to show how the AIDS pandemic affected the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans. Even material that may not originally have been in response to the AIDS epidemic resonated in a new and profound way when set in this venue: the song “Not a Day Goes By,” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Merrily We Roll Along, was suddenly no longer about a cheating husband, but about the struggle to survive. A selection from Verdi’s La Traviata was sung as a celebration of love and life, and “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent closed the evening, asking us to “sing out, though the story never ends, let’s celebrate remember a year in the life of friends. Remember the love.”
The night was a wondrous success. In addition to the performance, we held an auction, raffled off prizes, sold hand silk-screened T-shirts, and managed to raise more than $500.
The AIDS epidemic has inspired the works of some of the most prolific artists of our time. Each year we get the chance to honor those artists who used one of the most devastating events of their lives to spread knowledge, hope, understanding, and love. Our hope is that Juilliard’s World AIDS Day performance will continue to grow and evolve for years to come, until one day World AIDS Day will be in memory of a virus that once was, but is no more.