Theatre VCU brings HIV/AIDS awareness to the stage

"Before It Hits Home" rehearsal photo. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.
"Before It Hits Home" rehearsal photo. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.
"Before It Hits Home" rehearsal photo. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.
“Before It Hits Home” rehearsal photo. Photo courtesy of Ian Watson.

Theatre VCU in collaboration with the Humanities Research Center is hosting a series of stage readings on the topic of HIV/AIDs.

Second year graduate student Ian Watson is staging “Before It Hits Home” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the Virginia Repertory Theatre. The performances are free and open to the public.

“Before it Hits Home” is a national play by Cheryl L. West first produced at Second Stage Theatre in New York City in March 1992.

The reading centers on a black bisexual musician, Wendel, who finds out he is HIV positive. Wendel struggles going back to his family and figuring out how to relate the disease because he and his family aren’t on good terms after he left them to get a record deal.

“(Before It Hits Home) is a piece about judgement and unconditional love and the price of when what should be unconditional love and what isn’t,” Watson said. “I want (the audience) to take away looking at the power of the piece and society at a whole and why this is a powerful piece today and timeless.”

Theatre Department Chair Ron Keller and Director of Graduate Studies Noreen Barnes collaborated with the VCU Humanities Research Center to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS through the stage readings. Keller and Barnes matched directors with plays based on what they thought they would be passionate about.

“This meant a lot to me because you think of HIV/AIDS now as pretty controlled, there’s a lot of medication,” Watson said. “Proportionately there are more plays about HIV/AIDS that center on white rich men. I think ‘Before it Hit’s Home’ gives a platform for more voices to be heard. To me that’s really important about this play — letting voices be heard.”

“Before it Hits Home” is the only play where people of color are the main cast. Aside from Wendel’s’ lover, no one in the cast is a white male.

Watson said he thinks one of the most powerful scenes is a split scene where Wendel is in the middle and his male lover is on one side and female partner on the other.

“If you look at what’s going on specifically to communities of color, you think we have come further and I think we have on some fronts but on other fronts we are failing,” Watson said.

He added that the stability of people of color in art is something he thinks this play emphasizes.

“In the ‘90s it was ‘love the person, hate the disease’ and that is still very much the case. That has gotten a lot better and progressed but there’s still a lot of work to get done,” Watson said.

The VCU Wellness Center partners with groups on campus to sponsor free oral HIV testing several times a semester and can get tested any time during the semester for a $15 charge.

“We constantly need to work to remind people how important it is that they think about HIV/AIDS and protect themselves and support their friends in protecting themselves,” said Director of the Wellness Center Linda Hancock. “The vast majority of people don’t know they have HIV when they first contract it, they don’t have symptoms for a long time.”

The last two stage readings for the series are “Mothers and Sons” on March 29 and 30 at the Richmond Triangle Players Theatre and “The Baddest of Boys” on April 19 and 21 at The Firehouse Theatre.

Staff Writer, Sophia Belletti

Sophia Belletti, Photo by Brooke MarshSophia is a sophomore print/online journalism major with a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter, covering soccer, basketball and baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn


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