Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 23, 2009

Show spotlights struggles with a fatal disease

A new theater piece, RED, will premiere at Knox this weekend. Senior Randy Geary, the show’s director and creator, described the work as “a devised theater play that examines what life is like for those who have or who have been greatly affected by HIV or AIDS, with the knowledge of an impending death. We examine psychological effects of having to see people progress towards death and the after-effects of that.”

Geary has had the idea for RED since his freshman year. Inspired by the passion of a fellow student director, he also had a message he wanted to communicate.

“HIV/AIDS is not a gay issue, it’s a human issue. I need to tell that story,” said Geary.

Although initially planned to be a “one-man show,” Geary changed his original concept after taking a class in devised theater, a format in which all participants help to develop the work.

“It just clicked—this is what needs to happen. It needs to be a group experience and I finally had the tools for it,” said Geary.

The play, which emphasizes the characters rather than any particular climax, relies on one-on-one interaction in addition to character monologues the actors wrote themselves. Using an acting technique known as ‘Viewpoints,’ Geary provided guidance so each person could “get into the mind of the character they were playing. I assigned scene partners, but they wrote the scenes on their own.”

The devised theater format allows the cast to tackle a hugely complex, emotional issue. Geary views the show as a much-needed chance for dialogue about HIV/AIDS.

“We need to show that people still care about this despite medical advances; despite saying ‘It won’t happen to me.’ You never know. When you let things get stagnant and don’t talk about them, the problem gets worse.”

The piece especially emphasizes the importance of creating communities. According to Geary, one of the work’s main themes is that “one person can help change, but it takes a community.” He put this philosophy into practice with his directing.

“We had to make our own community to tell people about a community.”

Geary had extensive praise for the community created to produce RED.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team. Everyone has brought things to the table. When I have ideas I think will never work, we find ways to make it work,” said Geary.

That included “making something that’s theater even as it’s messing with the idea of theater.” To facilitate this, Geary decided on a minimalist set that involved only a few chairs, allowing the set to be created in the imagination of the audience and focusing on the actor’s technique, gestures, and motion. The stage is also set up so that the viewers are able to see other members of the audience.

“It’s a shared experience, a communal experience. You see how you’re a member of this audience community. It creates an interesting dialogue. That might not happen with a normal style,” said Geary.

As a theater-goer himself, Geary felt that “some of the best shows leave decisions up to you,” an idea he incorporated into RED. Although the work demonstrates how death has a large element of control over the HIV/AIDS community, Geary wants to allow the audience members to come to their own conclusions about the work and the issues it raises.

“We don’t give any real resolutions to the questions we pose. We want the audience to be able to make their own solutions. Come into the show with an extremely open mind,” said Geary.

Noting that there would be a post-show discussion, Geary urges the audience to, “put in the energy that we put into making this. The piece will be open to change from now until whenever its last show is.”

RED will premiere tonight at 7:30 in Studio Theater and run through this Saturday. A post-show discussion will follow.

Katy Sutcliffe

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