Ramona Lisa Alexander and Lindsey McWhorter will perform the roles originated by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter in the Boston premiere of “In the Continuum.” The play, which deals with the effects of HIV/AIDS on communities in Los Angeles and Zimbabwe, will open this fall. (Craig Bailey/Perspective photo)
“Sometimes you think it can never happen to you. You only thought it could happen to other people … But it has happened, and I’m going to deal with it. My life will go on …”
- Earvin “Magic” Johnson, announcing his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers, Nov. 7, 1991.
In its June 2006 issue, Essence magazine dedicated significant editorial space to marking the 25th anniversary of HIV/AIDS in America, and discussing how African American women had become the new face of what was once considered a white, gay, male disease.
That same year, two New York University graduate students began writing separate monologues addressing the effect that HIV/AIDS has had on their respective cultures. Danai Gurira, a woman of Zimbabwean descent, chose to focus on African women and HIV, while Los Angeles native Nikkole Salter wrote about the American hip-hop generation.
The end result was “In the Continuum,” a play that combined the two stories and lit a political fuse around the world.
Political theater has long been a source of information, satire and entertainment. Poet and playwright Amiri Baraka once remarked that the job of the theater is to see what’s going on in the street and put it on stage for the people to see and discuss.
Shrouded in secrecy, shame and silence, HIV/AIDS ranks as one of the leading causes of death for African Americans between the ages of 24 and 44. But statistics and reports only push people away from the underlying health disparities and the stigmas associated with the disease.
The gay community tackled the disease head on, and their efforts resulted in national legislation and funding for AIDS research and outreach initiatives. But the straight community has often hid from it. It is little surprise, then, that while incidence of the disease has dropped drastically within the gay community, it has exploded among heterosexuals.
With the exception of some lewd lyrics in hip-hop and certain genres of fiction, African American culture does not talk openly about sex and sexuality. It is a very private matter and is handled as such. But that privacy is being invaded by a very public, and very deadly, disease.
Public awareness of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is increasing. Gurira and Salter’s “In the Continuum” helps to facilitate that awareness by focusing on the humanity behind the statistics.
“In the Continuum” presents the stories of Nia and Abigail, two women living on opposite sides of the world — one in L.A., one in Zimbabwe — whose diagnoses leads them on a journey of truth, understanding and self-acceptance. It is a very powerful story that has played to audiences from the Bronx to Johannesburg, and even in the United Nations.
This fall, Up You Mighty Race Theatre Company will present the play’s Boston premiere.
Over the next five weeks, Up You Mighty Race will partner with The Bay State Banner to present a series of articles addressing issues related HIV/AIDS that are prominent in the black community. The series will include: Spiritual Healing: The Black church responds to AIDS; Empowering the Next Generation: What teens know about AIDS; Approaching AIDS through the Arts; On the Road to a Cure: Public Health and Medical Advances; and Removing the Veil: Black Women Survivors of HIV/AIDS.
The articles are aimed at triggering discussions and action from the stage to the community. We will sit down with clergy, and talk to artists, young people, medical practitioners and people living with HIV/AIDS in an effort to reduce the stigmas as we move toward greater understanding, prevention and preservation.
“In the Continuum” by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, starring Ramona Lisa Alexander and Lindsey McWhorter, will open at the BCA Plaza Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, on Sept. 17 and run until Oct. 18. For tickets, visit www.bostontheatrescene.com or call 617-933-8600.
Join Up You Mighty Race on Friday, Aug. 22, for a public celebration and a sneak preview of the play at Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street. For more information, call 617-536-9695 ext 204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akiba Abaka is the producing artistic director of Up You Mighty Race Theatre Company.