Each year, CFA’s Theatre Department recognizes World AIDS Day by performing a fundraiser play to raise money for local HIV/AIDS charities. For this past year’s Stages of AIDS event, the department performed Raft of the Medusa, a play in which a young woman joins an HIV positive support group for the first time, only to learn that what ties the group together also tears them apart.
The play, by Joe Pintauro, was written at the peak of the AIDS panic in the mid-1980s, and gives both student performers and the audience members a very interesting perspective on the crisis, according to director and Theatre Arts Lecturer Neno Pervan. “Through the act of performing in this play, our students can experience the lunacy, fear, panic, and hypocrisy of the AIDS scare during the eighties,” he said. “And from an educational perspective, they also learn a lot about the ensemble work in theatre. It also allows the whole ensemble of 12 people to be on the stage for the entire play; only one character comes in-and-out during the show.”
The play is a powerful reminder of how patients with AIDS were treated early on – fired from jobs, shunned by their communities and the health care profession, and demonized as aberrant and deserving of their illness. Plays like this one seek to serve as a reminder of what’s at stake when facing challenges like the AIDS epidemic and beyond, according to Pervan. “Beyond the obvious reasons of fighting a horrible illness, we hope to use these performances to send an ongoing message against discrimination,” he said. “AIDS does not differentiate – it is an equal opportunity killer. And similarly, we must not discriminate against its victims. They all deserve our help and support, whether here, or in communities around the world.”
Just one of the Theatre Department’s social justice-driven activities, the Stages of Aids performances have been presented yearly since 2006 and are dedicated to contributing funds to organizations that can really make a difference in local Southern California communities. Admission to each performance is free of charge, but visitors are encouraged to donate at the door. For the last several years, the department has been working with AIDS Project LA, and raised over $1,000 for the organization just during the run of Raft of the Medusa.
Despite the specific nature of the subject matter, Pervan sees the play as an opportunity provide an ongoing educational experience for both performers and audience members that hammers home some important universal truths. “Take people for who they are, not what others tell you about them,” he said. “Listen to every side of the story, before you start to judge.”