Were you there? Do you remember?
My memory was a little foggy until I went to The Normal Heart Saturday night at the Bartell Theatre in Madison, produced by Stage Q. This drama by Larry Kramer follows his life story, although he has renamed himself as “Ned.”
Kramer (Ned) witnessed the spread of AIDS among his friends in the early 1980’s. At one point out of frustration he shouts that 40 of his friends have died. Look at your facebook list – can you imagine losing 40 friends in the space of about a year – to a disease that was yet unnamed?
This play made you feel the panic, the fear, and the frustration that these men had. But more important than that – you felt the LOVE that they had. As the death tally rose, so did the emotion…
Yet, when I think about my own life at this same time period, I can’t imagine we were in the same country, as I have relatively no memory of that panic. Was I just an oblivious college student? Or was I no different than those that Kramer writes about who just didn’t concern themselves with the gay community? I would like to think I was more socially aware, but if I am honest, I probably was not.
What I can say, is I feel that we have come light years in the last three decades. Not everyone is “enlightened” to Gay Rights, but I feel like we are moving in the right direction. Do you?
Here is more about the story (and the play) – you should see it if it opens in your community. (Primarily from Wikipedia): Because of the lack of information about the disease, as well as his fear that Gay men were not confronting what was happening Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). Although he served on its first board of directors, his view of how it should be run sharply conflicted with the rest of its members. While GMHC began to concentrate on social services for men who were dying, Kramer loudly insisted they fight for funding from New York City. When doctors suggested men stop having sex, Kramer strongly encouraged GMHC to deliver the message to as many gay men as possible. When they refused, Kramer wrote an essay entitled “1,112 and Counting“, printed in 1983 in the New York Native, a gay newspaper. The essay discussed the spread of the disease, the lack of government response, and apathy of the gay community.
Kramer’s confrontational style proved to be an advantage, as it earned the issue of AIDS in New York media attention that no other individual could get. He found it a disadvantage when he realized his own reputation was “completely that of a crazy man.”
Eventually Kramer (Ned) was thrown out of the organization for inciting panic. He expressed his frustration with bureaucratic paralysis and the apathy of gay men to the AIDS crisis by writing this play, The Normal Heart, which was first produced at The Public Theatre in New York City in 1985.