DIRECTORS NOTES CONTINUED:
A Different Perspective
'We Were There', is a verbatim-theatre narrative intended for a live audience. Here in Melbourne, the hardest city hit by the COVID pandemic in Australia, all social-gatherings are outlawed: the theatres have been closed, and every live event cancelled. It is, therefore, a great privilege to be presenting work with the support of ViiV Healthcare who has commissioned this documentary short film to use as an educational resource with those living and working with HIV today. Its simultaneous global digital-release is set on the 17th of October, designated to the participants of this year's 'The Art of ART' conference; a gathering of the top HIV specialists from around the planet. This exciting new adaptation highlights a series of excerpts from the original play contemporised by the introduction of a new voice to the work, its video-host Michele Delaforce. 'We Were There'; is a collection of verbatim testimonies that have developed into an intricate tapestry of intersecting perspectives of HIV&AIDS, which focus solely on the narratives of Australian women: the sisters, mothers and wives, friends, volunteers, and medical professionals who cared for those living with HIV&AIDS in the 80s and 90 - Stories told by those living and working with the virus today and stories left in our care by those no longer with us - This is an Australian first.
This catalogue of memories re-plays firsthand accounts volunteered by a spectrum of participants reflecting all walks of life, from all over the country; These are their words, the real story exists between the lines. During the initial script development, the creative team explored many ways in which to bring these women's words to life by activating variations of the source material through music and song, poetry, abstracted text, and stylised movement. There became the stark realisation, that were it not for the existence of this project; many of these stories would have remained unheard or worse, forgotten altogether. This revised version honours the achievements of these women, acknowledging their feelings of neglect, of loss, and the sacrifices made throughout their lives in service of HIV&AIDS. These stories are now, and forever will be balanced with the national account of the virus.
Themes of isolation and marginalisation are not uncommon in the narratives of HIV. What did continue to surprise us were stories of newly diagnosed women expelled by their families and made pariahs by their community leaders whom they turned to for help. Socially and politically, positive women were invisible. "Women don't get it - it's a gay disease!"... an opinion that somehow survives today. What HIV-themed works today tend not to mention are the personal and professional costs suffered by the women (nurses, specialists, and medical professionals) in the AIDS wards and infectious disease hospitals, shunned by their peers because of where they worked. It's hard to believe possible, but it's true.
With reams of butcher's paper, coloured markers, and Post-it notes scattered about in ordered chaos, 'We Were There' came together on the rehearsal-room floor with a cast of four local actors lead by writer/director Dirk Hoult. They regularly welcomed the project participants into the space for updates on their progress and to receive from them, firsthand experiences of HIV&AIDS; feeding back into the creative loop. Those participants who were geographically able came to each 'development showing' or 'reading' of the script where they were able to hear their words re-spoken, to respond to those words, and to make as many changes or assertions as they felt necessary.
The premiere season of 'We Were There' was embraced by theatre audiences at
the Loft Theatre (Chapel Off Chapel) in January 2018.