Queer Drama: AIDS, Race, and the Performance of Sexuality
HIV/AIDS appeared on the American landscape in the early 1980s, as the syndrome travelled from the country’s racial and economic margins to more visible middle-class communities in San Francisco and New York City. The story of AIDS found a home in the theater beginning with Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in 1985, and perhaps no artistic medium has grappled as intimately and openly with the virus. A longstanding haven for LGBT artists, gutted by an incomprehensible number of losses, American theater has served as one of the primary vehicles for mourning, raging, and world-making in the midst of AIDS. The release this summer of a major motion picture adaptation of The Normal Heart, staring Julia Roberts and Glee’s Jonathan Groff, urges us to return more attentively and critically to the historical and contemporary staging of AIDS. In this class we will read, view and perform plays that grapple with the drama of AIDS in order to pursue the following questions: What is AIDS and how did it become a "queer" problem? How have artists recovered a positive view of sexuality in the midst of stigma and paranoia? How do the racial, economic, and national backgrounds of writers and characters shape the way AIDS is staged? How has the staging of AIDS changed as fear of the virus wanes, associated as it is today with poor, distant, and racially “othered” populations? In our exploration of AIDS through art, we will draw from the field of performance studies, which asks us to see not just how art represents the crisis but how it remakes life with AIDS, transcending mere survival with wit, hope and vitality.
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