ENUF is Enough!admin
ENUF is Enough!
HIV Australia | Vol. 12 No. 3 | December 2014
By Tim Phillips
In May 2014, the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) premiered two new theatre productions1 that hoped to help end stigma and raise awareness around HIV and AIDS by taking the lived experiences of Victorians living with HIV and responding to them theatrically.
I had been working on Plus Sign Attached, directed by Maude Davey, since March with ten other third year actors and undergraduate production students.
We began with nothing; there were no scripts. All we had was our prior knowledge and experience of HIV and AIDS, which for a lot of us, was very limited.
So how does a group of theatre makers create a show about something of which they have no lived experience?
Well, the VCA engaged a community partner in Living Positive Victoria to support the project and provide us with such rich and honest stimulus material.
A range of people from their speakers bureau, who are HIV-positive, came and shared stories about their relationship with the virus, the events leading up to receiving a positive diagnosis, and the response after, disclosure and their current life.
The speakers that came to us were varied in age, sex and sexuality and it became very clear that this virus did not discriminate.
Their generosity and bravery to tell their story to us was confronting, compelling and inspiring.
We also spoke with a doctor and HIV researcher to attempt to wrap our heads around the virus on a more scientific level.
Ideas of feeling ‘dirty’, shame, facing one’s mortality, risky events and behaviours, and disclosing to loved ones resonated through all the speakers’ stories, but the major word that they all spoke about was stigma.
With such loaded material we also started our personal research finding articles, films, photos, interviews, music and much more to feed into our devising.
To begin, Maude offered a very loose structure for the show: a mix of smaller intimate pieces around the space whilst a main stage event occurred.
However, as rehearsals began and we asked questions about content and structure, her response was “I don’t know!” and it was clear that nothing was set and everything was to be discovered.
Our rehearsals would often begin with impulse work. Images and ideas organically grew out of that, as well as interesting ways of using the space.
Images from this work were often taken and fleshed out to more usable material.
Maude would often provide us with provocations to which we would respond to by making short performances.
We also offered ideas we were individually interested in exploring to present performatively to the group.
Some of these provocations included personal near death experiences, the science of the virus , the Grim Reaper, the 80s, facing death, disclosure, HIV and the homosexual community, HIV-positive women, the abject and redemption.
And what became a cornerstone of our process; the imperfect, leaking human body, sex and feeling dirty, which culminated in us covering each other in molasses, sauces, slime, cornflour and water, liquorice, glitter and much more in a celebration of sex and being human and all the fluids that come from that, followed by cleaning each other.
Maude would never stop daring us to be braver, bolder and to commit and so as the weeks past the work seemed to become stronger and stronger.
Ideas and images were joined together and allowed to react, original ideas were further developed and more material was being generated.
Behind all of this was a team of student stage managers organising spaces and rehearsal materials, and ensuring our safety, and student designers finding the recurring themes and images to create an aesthetic to create costumes, set, lights and sound within.
They would often be present in rehearsal both watching and putting forward their ideas and opinions and making things for us to play with when we needed them.
Throughout the process we were lucky enough to welcome back all of the speakers to showings of our work.
It was another huge benefit of the community engagement with Living Positive Victoria as it gave us the opportunity to ask any questions and gauge responses to the work thus far.
I remember how nervous we were about this. Here they were watching their stories, interpreted by us and put onto stage.
Had we done their stories justice? Would they be offended by anything? How would it resonate with them, if at all?
To our relief they responded very well, some even moved to tears and at times there were moments of roaring laughter.
It gave us confidence in our work and for me, it was a moment of realisation of how big an impact this project could have.
We were also able to receive some more critical and constructive feedback to take action on.
As the work progressed a similar yet different structure to the one initially proposed emerged.
It was decided that the audience were to go through a promenade performance leading them into the space, where a main stage performance would happen.
The main space material began, for me, to have a feel of a demented cabaret, where images sparked up and down in a whirlwind, acid- fuelled kind of world.
Where beauty mixed with the abject, song mixed with death, and the confrontational mixed with celebration.
It was a visceral feast. We had a lot of material that we needed to piece together.
Maude would offer draft running orders, containing different transitions, rhythms and repetitions.
We would try them and they would feel wrong and so she would make another one. It was wrong again. And so the creative process continued.
We had never done a full run of the show without stopping until production week and even after that there were changes aplenty, even on the day of opening night.
That’s the exciting part about the devising process; the show is never complete. It’s evolving, it keeps you on your toes, it’s changing, it’s fresh, it’s relevant and it has its own life; that’s why it must continue to grow and develop.
It lives within the theatre and hopefully in our audiences as the images churn in their minds and manifest some sort of change in them and their personal relationship with HIV and AIDS.
1 Plus Sign Attached, directed by Maude Davey and UN/clean, directed by Noel Jordan.
This article was first published on the VCA blog in May 2014.
Tim Phillips is a student of Company 2014 – Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre Practice) at the VCA.