By Ethan Hogan
On Oct. 11, 1987 during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, a massive collection of panels were made to honor those lost to HIV and AIDS. Family and friends made 1,920 panels to represent the lives of 2,000 people lost with scrapbook style pictures and precious belongings. The collection of panels is known as The Aids Memorial Quilt (or “The Quilt” for short), and today sections of it tour the globe to help commemorate World AIDS Day.
UNH Health Services in association with The Names Project, displayed eight of the original quilts in the Granite State Room in the MUB on Monday to celebrate World AIDS Day. On Tuesday evening, the UNH Theatre and Dance Department also put on a special performance of “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens” a series monologues and songs representing the lives of individuals who died from the AIDS crisis.
Ticket sales were donated to AIDS Response Seacoast, a non-profit AIDS Service Organization.
Kathleen Grace-Bishop, the director of education and promotion at Health Services, explained that UNH was an early supporter and promoter of World AIDS Day.
“We were early on in terms of dealing with the issue and addressing it,” said Grace-Bishop, citing that the World Health Organization instituted World AIDS Day in 1988 and UNH began recognizing and promoting it in the early 90s.
“We have another generation but there is still this opportunity for remembrance of the impact of this disease and the need for action,” she said, stressing that today the key is prevention.
Health Services also held free HIV screenings on Tuesday.
The night’s performance, “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens”, featured a series of monologues and songs performed from the perspective of those who have died from HIV and AIDS.
“It’s a concept piece in that there isn’t one linear story,” said John Berst, the show’s director, while talking about the play that was written in the late 80s.
Twenty-three performers including 20 members of the UNH Department of Theatre and Dance, two faculty members and an actor from the community brought the memories to life with their emotional monologues. One at a time, performers came to the microphone and painted a picture of the last days of the their lives. Some portrayed people living their lives in New York City, or on the sandy beaches of far-off tropical islands. Other stories recounted the death of a child or a drug user too troubled to embrace treatment. However, every story shared a common ending: the person ultimately lost his or her life to the AIDS virus
The finale was a performance about a man dying from AIDS and his partner telling him that it is okay for him to let go and die after making a valiant effort to stay alive.
Berst explained the final scene saying, “His partner lovingly says, ‘you’ve had a good life, if you need to let go, I give you permission to.’”
“It encapsulates learning to let go, that phrase, it can mean a lot because it can mean learning to let go of a fight, learning to let go of hate, learning to let go of bitterness, learning to let go of what holds you back,” Berst added.
“Ultimately it is a very hopeful piece,” he said.
Zachary Ahmad-Kahloon of SHARPP also helped coordinate the event and explained the significance of World AIDS Day.
“This is something that impacted so many people and so many people are living with and died from [AIDS],” Kahloon said, adding that while the performance is serious at parts it is also fun and celebrates the lives of those who have lost the battle with AIDS.