Last Halloween, theater director DR Hanson went as Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen. He chose to emulate Mercury's famous outfit from a World AIDS Day performance. Hanson was sure it would be easily recognized. He was shocked — and disappointed — by the outcome.
“So many people, gay and ‘muggle’ alike, did not recognize me," he says. "It got me thinking about LGBT history and how people like Freddie Mercury and World AIDS Day have fallen out of fashion.”
Hanson started to consider the way society thinks about AIDS. In many people's eyes, it is no longer an epidemic that must urgently be dealt with.
“I feel a combination of shame, fueled by social stigmas toward the disease, and scientific advances in medication have allowed a complacent spirit to creep into our society," he says.
The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that annual new HIV infections declined 10 percent from 2010-14. But Hanson is worried that complacency among young people, who don't remember when AIDS was a national crisis and a frequent topic of conversation, may eventually lead to more HIV infections.
In honor of World AIDS Day on Friday, Hanson will produce a staged reading of a play that speaks to his fears. The Yellow Boat is a one-act play about a boy who died from the disease.
"While HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, it will still take lives,” Hanson says. He notes some of the disease's most high-profile victims: “men like Freddie Mercury, Keith Haring and, very recently, the Broadway composer Michael Friedman — at age 41."
Hanson hopes The Yellow Boat, onstage at Arts Mission Oak Cliff, will reignite conversation about AIDS and the many young people who have died from it. He says his goal is "to break out of complacency and reduce this worldwide occupation until a cure can eliminate it for good."
The Yellow Boat is the true story of Benjamin Saar, the son of playwright David Saar and his wife, Sonja. Benjamin was born with congenital hemophilia and died in 1987 at age 8 from AIDS-related complications.
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Benjamin was a gifted artist and used art as a way to cope his illness. The play's title comes from a Scandinavian folk song about three little boats, part of Benjamin's bedtime ritual: "One was blue, one was red and one was yellow as the sun. They sailed far out to sea. The blue one returned to the harbor. The red one sailed home, too. But the yellow boat sailed up to the sun."
In the play, Benjamin always concludes the ritual by saying, "Mom, you can be the red boat or the blue boat, but I am the yellow boat."
Proceeds from the reading, which costs $10 to attend, will be split between Arts Mission Oak Cliff and Prism Health Services of North Texas. After the reading, there will be a discussion exploring what HIV and AIDS in Dallas look like, myths and truths surrounding the virus, and ways to help find a cure. Dr. Gary Sinclair and a representative from LULAC 4871 will lead the discussion.
The Yellow Boat, Arts Mission Oak Cliff, 410 S. Windomere Ave., 7 p.m. Friday, $10, see Facebook.