The Nashville production of YOU SHALL LHiV 2:ZERO puts a promising message to music – and serves as the official kick-off to Nashville Black Pride on Oct. 12.
According to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the number of potential new HIV transmissions in 2020 is easy to remember: Zero. That goal inspired the new musical, which is a community collaboration between Nashville Black Pride, Streetworks, The Vanderbilt HIV Vaccine Program, Scarritt Bennett Center, Metro Human Relations Commission, and Nashville in Harmony. The original production is written and directed by Streetworks HIV prevention educator T.K. Hampton
Hampton says, “At an early age growing up in church, I realized I would always remember the song and not the message. As an adult, I realized that this was true for so many people. They can’t remember the message but can remember a song from church service. In YOU SHALL LHiV 2:ZERO I have made the message the song -- the message is in the music -- so people can leave the show with both.”
This production talks about five HIV prevention methods with real-life testimonials. Can you tell me about those - and about the actors who play those roles?
Ebony Gordon as “The Voice of Support” is that voice who is nonjudgmentally present for someone newly diagnosed with HIV. People who just find out they’re positive or negative need support, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Natasha Bradley as “Rubber Lover” is someone who depends on condoms to protect people from HIV and other STDs.
Justin Lofton as “PrEPpy” is a black gay male who is on PrEP. His motto is, “One pill a day will keep HIV away!”
Vic Sorrell as “AMP(ed) UP is a white male who invites all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, to participate in a study that could give us an HIV vaccine.
TK Hampton as “Treatment as Prevention” is a black man who has been living with HIV for 20 years. The CDC has just recently endorsed the results of three studies relating to HIV transmission. Those studies conclude that people who are HIV positive, on treatment, and with an undetectable viral load, will not transmit the HIV virus.
In addition to the preventions each cast member represents, each one shares his or her unique vocal talent and personal story to help us see how we can get to ZERO.
This is the kickoff for Nashville Black Pride and a big part of the AMP study is making sure black people are taken into account in HIV research. How did this become a mission for you?
I wanted all people, especially the marginalized, to have hope that we can stop a disease that has taken so many people we love. Also, being HIV positive while working in the field of HIV prevention and advocacy has put me in situations where I’m the one who confirms a person’s HIV status. I have been the one to walk people through the process of getting the care the people need. I have been the one who sat with a family as their loved one suffered from the effects of this disease. These experiences have worked together to give me a strength and a passion to stop this disease by utilizing all the tools we have to fight it.
This staging falls on the 20th anniversary of the phone call informing you that you were HIV positive. What was the process like writing for a modern audience, but going back in time to relive that experience?
The feelings you have when you’re told you’re HIV positive haven’t changed. For me then and for anyone now, it’s scary, difficult, and numbing. I was told over the phone, with no regard to my feelings. I don’t want anyone else to be alone when they feel what I felt when I received my positive HIV diagnosis. I’m part of a service community at My House that is committed to standing with people from testing, to diagnosis, and through treatment, until they are ready to live—really live—with HIV.
There are a number of maternal influences in the story, from Mother Earth and Mother Energy, to the mothers who raised you. What sort of emotions does that maternal presence help bring out in the story?
My mother was there when I received the news of being HIV positive. She was my strength and my life until she died. When she died, I was lost. I had to find a new way to live. I knew how to live my life as HIV positive with my mother supporting me, but I didn't know how to cope with HIV without her. I begin to see the mother energy around me. Women were there to support me with the mother energy that my mother had given me. Women, maternal energy, helped me not to give up on treatment and to continue in the fight to live and help others to live.
This production has plenty of moments of fun and levity - it seems like all of the actors have a good sense of humor - and they use it to build a connection with the audience. How did you go about striking the balance between light-hearted laughter and striking a serious tone?
Laughter is good for the soul. You have to find a balance between getting a serious point across, and giving the audience something to smile about. I do that by being honest with myself and by realizing that even in our mistakes, we can find humor. Even in our heartache, find the humor. Humor helps us let go of the hurt, remember who we are, and focus on how we want others to remember us. Even though life has its hard moments, it fun to be alive!
What would you like the audience to take away from this production?
I want people to leave knowing what it means when they hear, “We’ve got to get to ZERO.” I want people to leave having made a commitment to get to ZERO.
We are at a pivotal moment in history. We can change the world. So many people have died from a disease that once left us feeling powerless. However, with today’s advancements, we can get to ZERO. We start by having the conversation. We create the action plan, revise the action plan, and we never lose sight of the goal. It will take all of us to get to ZERO. ZERO HIV infections. ZERO AIDS related deaths ZERO racism. We can get to ZERO; we can make it if we try.
The free production of WE SHALL LHiV 2:ZERO will take place Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at Wightman Chapel at Scarritt Bennett Center. The production will feature a special appearance by Nashville in Harmony.