AIDS awareness, on stage
A new Philadelphia play is merging activism, health and a story of family.
“You Gotta Eat Dirt Before You Die,” is the story of Jefferson, an African American business professional whose lover Nick is dying from AIDS in the 1980's, while his mother is diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer.
The play, written by Temple University professor Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and co-directed by Malcolm Kenyatta and Terrell Green, was written after the passing of Williams-Witherspoon’s mother and is loosely based on her personal experiences.
“Terrell and I noticed the traditional methods of getting information to people weren’t working. We could have just done an event for people to get free testing or had a discussion, which we did hold a panel on Monday, but we wanted to find another way to connect with people,” said Kenyatta, who also plays the lead character, Jefferson. “Through the play, we have let people see a work of art and be entertained, but at the same time, still get all of the information that we want them to get about our message.”
That message is to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by initiating conversation, getting people to take action in reducing new infections and educating themselves and others about HIV/AIDS.
“The play is really important. We’re looking at these other major, public health scares that have popped up. However, HIV/AIDS hasn’t gone away. Sadly, in Philadelphia, the rate of new infections is five times the national average. So we should be concerned,” Kenyatta said.
In the Latino community, HIV/AIDS is a battle. Latinos are three times more likely than whites to be infected with HIV. They are also less likely to have access to treatment.
Kenyatta believes that the play is the perfect combination of art and activism. “We want people to get the message, and get inspired and fired up. I was personally sick of being a bystander. I felt it was important for me to take action and get others involved.”
At Saturday’s show, there will be free, on-site HIV testing through a partnership with the Mazzoni Center.
Kenyatta came out to his family when he was 16, which was difficult since they were very religious. He hopes the play will create a dialogue in other families, particularly in the African-American community.
“Family is universal. It’s not just an African-American story,” Kenyatta said. “Our cast is multicultural and multiracial because that really is the history of this disease. This disease doesn’t care about your color, your background, or who you are. That is the benefit of this story. It is a story, regardless of their background, that people can connect to.”
“You Gotta Eat Dirt Before You Die” opens Dec. 4 at the Adrienne Theater in Center City Philadelphia and runs through Dec. 7. For more information and tickets, click here.