Can society ever change?
Victims of AIDS were socially because of the mass fear and hysteria that the disease carried as expert of infectious diseases Elizabeth Landau tells it. Even after the cause of the disease was released in 1986 victims of AIDS were still neglected. For the fight against AIDS to continue the AIDS community had to find a way to change public opinion of them. The performing arts community saw this neglect and began a campaign to change the public opinion on AIDS and the victims. Performing arts groups, and in particular theater, came to their aid by showcasing plays and shows about the personal lives of AIDS victims and how it effects the people around them. A study on this theater plays effecting public opinion by Boneh and Jaganath says “a movement from a narrow use of performance to deliver messages toward the potential of art to empower and provoke critical discussion in the community (462)”. The theater community hosted plays about people living with AIDS to educate and move the crowd to reshape their mindset on what they thought of the AIDS virus. Boneh and Jaganth argues that education within the theater and public forum are essential for the community to “engage in a critical analysis of the problem and an exploration of feasible solutions (456)”. In the study researchers ensured that performers “underwent a series of information-based sessions delivered by health professionals (Boneh and Jaganth 460)” to make sure that the performers could immerse themselves fully in the roll and convey a sharp knowledge about AIDS to the audience. By educating the audience about all personal and physical aspects of HIV/AIDS the barriers that held the general public back from open discussion of AIDS were broken down. The way that the theater connected with the audience was with deep personal stories to earn the crowd’s sympathy or comedy to cut the tension surrounding discussion on AIDS related issues. The study showed that the plays used “comedy acts [to break] the ice with jokes about relationships, sex, and condom (Boneh and Jaganth 455)” to allow the crowds to more easily facilitate conversation about AIDS and its growing issues. Now knowing more about HIV/AIDS the general public can comprehend the lives of AIDS victims in a new light and no longer be held back by fear.
Don Shewey, a NY times journalist, expert on theater/musical and strong member of the gay community, describes the New York theater’s effect on the AIDS movement and how AIDS theaters opened more discussion on AIDS to general public. He sees AIDS theater “significant in that they assert the theater’s ancient function as a public forum in which a community gathers to talk about [the plays] (Shewey)”. Theater conveys a message to audience and the crowd critics, discusses, and analyzes the play in every aspect in order understand the full meaning of the message. In basic literature, every story has some kind of theme or lesson that it conveys to its audience without explicitly telling the audience of it. It is important for discussion among members of the crowd to pick apart and understand the message that the story was trying to relay, that’s why almost every literature class in America reads and picks apart famous books to gain this very skill. The AIDS theater plays do the same thing with their audience, so they can deeply analyze the underlying theme of the performance. Shewey article also goes into how AIDS theater was “a significant role in AIDS education in the gay community [and] big push in the media to emphasize that it’s not a gay disease but a virus that affects everyone”. Famous plays like “The life of the party”, “Beirut”, and “As is” are prime example of how AIDS theater educated and opened discussions among general public about HIV/AIDS. As media playing the role of great influencer to the public, the opinion on AIDS shifted greatly which drastically decreased social neglect and discrimination on AIDS victims. In 1988 the U.S banned discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS in the workplace and Ronald Reagan, who ignored the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, publicly apologized for his neglect of the virus during his presidency. Performing arts played their role superbly in AIDS activism to reshape public opinion on the HIV/AIDS and many still continue to fight the good fight to this day.