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LMU’s “Stages of AIDS” Explores Global AIDS Crisis

Students from Loyola Marymount University presented the third annual production of “Stages of AIDS” Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in honor of World AIDS Day 2009 on Dec. 1. The play was performed in St. Robert’s Auditorium on the LMU campus. 

“While the number of occurrences of HIV/AIDS infections has dwindled since it was first reported in 1981, the disease is still prevalent in our society,” said Peter Jeensalute, senior theatre arts major and director of the play. “Many people and governments don’t want to face the dreadful facts about HIV/AIDS, but the truth must be told.”

“Stages of AIDS” interweaves portions from four plays – “Vukani – Wake Up!” by Sindiwe Magona, “In the Continuum” by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, “Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer and “Patient A” by Lee Blessing. Jeensalute said the plays were selected because they explore the development of the disease from the early ’80s, when it was an American phenomenon that primarily affected the gay population, to the current crisis in Africa.

“HIV/AIDS is a global phenomenon that doesn’t target one group of people. No one should turn away from this disease as if it didn’t involve them in some way or another,” Jeensalute said. “We should always do our best to help our fellow human beings.”

This was the first time a student served as director.  Jeensalute incorporated music and dance into the performance and added a silent auction after the show, which included perfume donated by Elizabeth Taylor and gift certificates to local restaurants and shops. The play included 22 student actors, four guest artists, a student choreographer and a dialect coach.

“I wanted to intertwine as many different angles as I could to engage with the audience and captivate them through lights, sounds and movement,” Jeensalute said. “HIV/AIDS is not a pretty disease, and I hope we did justice to the stories that were represented on stage.”

Two faculty advisers helped guide Jeensalute throughout the run of the show.  Jeensalute said that Jim Holmes, theatre faculty member, provided him with the analytical and organizational skills needed to coordinate the elements of directing a play, while Grant Garinger, S.J., assistant professor of theatre arts and dance, served as a spiritual guide.

“I would visit Father Garinger to reflect on how the show was progressing and if I was achieving what I wanted,” Jeensalute said. “He helped me to discern whether or not I was on the right track to a deeper understanding of the project as a whole.”

Ultimately, Jeensalute hoped that “Stages of AIDS” would motivate the audience members to take action. “The show was a lot to take in, but I hope ‘Stages of AIDS’ helped audience members to think outside of themselves, past that ambitious and selfish ego, and get involved,” Jeensalute said.

All proceeds from ticket sales and the auction were donated to Global AIDS Alliance, an international nonprofit that aims to halt the global AIDS crisis through advocacy, education and outreach.