Deep into rehearsals, this year’s production of Names & Faces is well underway. Is it because of this play that I drag myself out of bed on Sunday mornings and lazily make my way down to the one place I try to avoid on Sundays: school.
Why? Allow me to explain.
In the 1980s, Drake’s long-time drama teacher, David G. Smith saw a group of panels from the now world-famous AIDS quilt. He saw that in each panel lay the story of how someone, and the people around them, struggled and were eventually brought down by this incurable nightmare of a disease. This inspired Smith to write Names & Faces: Stories from the AIDS Quilt, a play that tells several parallel stories of how people were affected by the disease.
Now, it has become a tradition for him to put on a production of the play every other year and, after coming back from hiatus (after the production two years ago, he vowed to not direct it again), it’s on once again in 2011.
What separates this from most Drake plays is that the actors all volunteer, audition, and then are cast by Smith himself. Unlike most plays, it isn’t put on through a drama class. Because of that, it has become a tradition for higher-level drama students.
For more Sundays and Saturdays than I care to count, I, as a member of this year's cast, have been attending rehearsals from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., practicing and practicing to bring truth to this hallowed Drake tradition.
While it's been a fun experience, it's hard not to be affected by the gravity of the stories portrayed in this play. I play a man whose husband is dying of AIDS; and I have a scene in which I am sitting by his bedside, singing to his recently deceased body.
Obviously, that is an experience that I cannot fathom in my real life to this point, but the more I get into the role, the more I can feel the real sadness that could come from such a tragedy.
This play offers more than a just chance for high school kids to get out on the stage. It has already begun to provide me with perspective that I don't think I would otherwise have. The chance even to hear about – not to mention be part of – these stories can impact students in a way that school doesn't often offer.
Having attended the show in the past, I can attest to the intensity of the environment in the theater when the audience and the actors are experiencing these stories of broken families and ruined lives.
Coupled with actual showings of real panels from the AIDS quilt, this has created lasting impressions for the many students who have experienced it over the years. Names and Faces has been going for over twenty years and I hope it goes for twenty more.
For me, the long hours of rehearsal have opened my mind to a life that I wouldn't otherwise be exposed too, and it's definitely worth getting up on a Sunday morning for.
Names and Faces: Stories from the AIDS quilt will be playing on March 2, 3, and 4 in the Drake little theater. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for updates/more information.