We Were There

Presented by Tilted Projects

Brought to you by ViiV Healthcare

  'The Art of ART', October 17th 2020  

"We Were There is a space of learning, of listening and of sharing.

a heartfelt and honest piecing together of a complex picture of facts, experiences, and emotions. Presented with humour and warmth, We Were There is a genuine act of sharing and a testament to the bravery and strength of the women interviewed"

- Theatre People


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 audiences at the Loft Theatre (Chapel Off Chapel) in January 2018.

Stories about people living with HIV tend to be male-dominated. This striking piece of verbatim theatre, culled from interviews with a wide variety of women who experienced the HIV/AIDS crisis in the '80s and '90s, redresses a significant imbalance.


- the age


We began work on the project in 2015, followed by our first interviews in mid-2016. The recordings of which were meticulously transcribed, with serious attention paid to the vocal nuances of each speaker in the hope of translating to the page a deeply authentic re-presentation of each verbal contribution; capturing the organic inflections and casual non-verbal sounds of naturally occurring, uninhibited, and uncensored speech. Building upon playwriting techniques developed by Caryl Churchill, we set down a vocabulary of punctuation-based signifiers, to inform the vocal interpretation and subsequent physical embodiment of each actor's performance; allowing for the cacophony of simultaneous voices, and the mapping of internal shifts in thought and emotion. 


You may note that for the most part, the names of our participants remain unspoken within our text - this is how we felt it should be. The experiences in service here did not occur in isolation; women all over the world share them. You may see only four women on the screen, but when they speak, we hear the choir. We reflect upon aspects of stigma (internal and external), cataloguing moments of grief, loss, survivor's guilt, and the everyday challenges faced by women living with HIV spanning generations; offering different perspectives from opposite sides of the triage counter. For these reasons alone I feel 'We Were There' is a worthy inclusion to the canon of international HIV&AIDS-themed performance works. These voices and their stories deserve attention, they've waited a very long time! Our local histories perhaps too often recount the experiences of men but the women who were there have a very different story to tell - we honour them here.​


Leave your tissues at home. The re-telling of this Australian narrative, cracks along with the respectfully-irreverent nature our participants first delivered it - from the safety of hindsight. Here, at the heart of our investigation, we must if nothing else bear witness to the resilience of these women; to their fighting spirit, and the fortitude they maintained in the face of such insurmountable adversity. It's a celebration of our way of life and some incredible scientific achievements, more than that, 'We Were There' is a celebration of life itself and Australian women. Women that are funny, powerful, perceptive, honest, kind, and all of them warriors! We stand in solidarity with our "host" Michele Delaforce, beaming in today... "Live, from the tropical Tip-Top!"... She's the only non-performer in the ensemble, and her words are indeed her own. After three weeks of online rehearsals - the cast, with absolute abandon, surrendered themselves to the consummate re-presentation of these leaders and fighters; women at the top of their game who continue even now to serve their local and global communities in the fight against this machiavellian monster. 


This contemporisation of 'We Were There' was initially booked as the 'opening act' for 'The art of ART' event in Brisbane back in May. That was before COVID closed our borders. Thanks to the generous support of ViiV Healthcare, these women's stories are now immortalised in film. Every word re-presented here belongs to its contributors; Australian women who live with HIV in their hearts and their veins. If through the portal of its re-telling just one observer discovers the power inside of them to speak the truth of their status without fear of prejudice, or perhaps even gets their first sexual health test - we will have achieved something positively positive.

Director's Notes

Thank you, Dirk xxx

Your feedback will help to guide further developments of the work

Meet the creative team

Film Production


OUR HOST: Michele Delaforce

CAMERA: Michael Pattini (Camco Television)


CAST: Barbara Lowing, Jodie LeVesconte, Liz Buchanan, and Louise Brehmer 

CAMERA: Lauren-Ann Smith & David Mace-Kaff (Creative Path Films)



WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Dirk Hoult (Tilted Projects)

HEAD OF PRODUCTION: Kenny Timms (Diprose Media)


PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: Bear Baxter (Tilted Projects)

PHOTOS: Daniel Burke (Burke Photography- 2018 Production Stills

POSTER IMAGE: Amelia J Dowd - w/ Anita Posterino


LIBERTY EVENTS: Kira Fitzpatrick & Richard Wyles

ViiV HEALTHCARE: Bill Paterson, Jared Croft, Sue Calvert, John Walton, Ann Maccarrone, and Fraser Drummond

None of this would be possible without our contributors (listed above) and the teams responsible for the original creative development (2017) and the premiere production in 2018. More on them here.


And also thanks to...



Barbara Lowing
Jodie Levesconte
Louise Brehmer
Liz Buchanan
Host - Michele Delaforce