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"HIVoices" Theater Presentation

Updated on September 5, 2018

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"

— Henry David Thoreau

Theater has been used as a means of exploring the human spirit and developing empathy for other people who may be different from us for thousands of years. So, theater can actually be used as a means of helping stop the spread of disease by using it as a means of spreading awareness and empathy for people who have the disease. One of the most stigmatized and marginalized group of people in the United States as well as the world are those living with H.I.V. It is estimated that 1.1 million people in the United States have H.I.V. However, it is also estimated that one in seven of them are unaware that they have the disease.

Once someone is diagnosed as having H.I.V. they can be medicated on Antiretrovirals which suppress the viral load, or the amount of the virus, in the blood. Upon taking Antiretrovirals, once the viral load is seen as being "undetectable", the chance that they are going to transmit the disease is slim to none. However, due to the stigma against the disease many people will not get tested. Also, many people deny that they have the disease and refuse to take Antiretrovirals due to the stigma against it. So, how does theater increase people's empathy and decrease stigma against people living with H.I.V.? It was done by one man who fought to change people's attitudes towards the disease through the use of theater.

In the year of 2016, six people who were diagnosed and living with H.I.V. from Northern Kentucky were interviewed about living with the disease and the impact it had on their lives. The stories that they told were eventually read by actors and actresses in a theater presentation called "H.I.V. Voices". It was intended as a way of bridging the gap between these people who are often marginalized by the rest of society. It started with a social worker, Clint Ibele, who was involved with theater who decided it was a good idea to pursue the theater presentation. He first got involved with theater in high school and college. He joined Falcon theater in 2000 and performed on stage for a few years. He worked as a professional social worker with people living with H.I.V. helping them get access to much needed medical care and improving their lives through social work techniques. When he attended a workshop in 2016 about people living with the H.I.V. virus, he got the idea to do the theater presentation about the virus and what life was like for people who had it.

Once the interviews had been done, the stories were molded into a series of different monologues that were read by actors in Falcon Takes Flight which is the community outreach wing of Falcon Theater. While representing the diverse experiences of people who fully live with the disease every day as being part of their lives, the monologues display a huge range of emotions, feelings, and moods capturing the spirit of people living with H.I.V. Clint Ibele was inspired to do this project after hearing about a different theater presentation called "Chronic Illness, Theater Acting Project" that was created by two social workers. Mark J. Hillenbrand and Michael Gregory who were trying to improve and increase the empathy in doctors due to the fact that they figured out a lot of their clients felt frustrated with their doctors who they claimed were not listening to their concerns. Client Ibele the presented what was called "H.I.V. Voices" to Falcon theater. It was a story telling project intended to raise awareness and communication between the people living with H.I.V. and the rest of the community. Other people are not fully aware of the impact the disease has on these people's lives Even members of the medical community who mean perfectly well like physicians, nurses, care providers, and also family members do not really comprehend or understand the devastation of the disease on the person who has it.

"HIVoices" is a joint project between Falcon Theater, the Northern Kentucky Health Department, the Cincinnati Health Network, and AIDS Volunteers of Northern Kentucky. The project HIVoices in a similar manner to the prior project done by Hillenbrand and Gregory contains real stories about real people living with the disease. It is not fiction or something that has been exaggerated for story telling purposes. The story telling project is about courage and acceptance which is the main message the contributors wanted to convey. Intending to convey various responses and reactions of those living with H.I.V. as well as the people around them, some stories portray more hope than others. Yet, at the same time, all of them convey struggling with stigma and prejudice against those having the virus while coming to terms with having to live with the virus. The hope of "HIVoices" is that by telling these real stories, people who hear them will gain more understanding and empathy for people living with H.I.V.

Clint Ibele related that there have been no real negative reactions that he is aware of from people who have seen the presentation. All of the reactions from people who have seen the presentation have been positive. When people thank Clint Ibele and other theater staff for doing what they are doing, Clint and others tell them that it is not their words. The only thing that they did was provide an opportunity for these people to tell their stories that otherwise would never have been told. By using a theater presentation, their voices are actually heard. It was a friend of Clint Ibele's who was active in Falcon Takes Flight, the outreach wing of Falcon Theater, who thought that his work in social work as well as HI Voices was deserving of a nomination for becoming a Kentucky Colonel. She brought emphasis to the impact his work has done for the community in which they live. Clint Ibele was named a Kentucky Colonel (a title of honor given to the Commonwealth of Kentucky by the governor or secretary of state to individuals in recognition of their noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state, or nation) in 2018.


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