articles from 2009

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The AIDS Performance Team with Pieter-Dirk Uys: A firsthand account 

– Harry Weston, Art | Global Health Center's Blog, 8 December 2009

South African performance artist Pieter-Dirk Uys came to UCLA for a two week residency in October 2009 and taught 21 students how to fight fear with humor. The following is from one of those students.

I participated in the Pieter-Dirk Uys experience in many ways. I advertised/attended/ushered his one-man show, Elections and Erections, I attended his one-man educational show for high school students, For Fact’s Sake, and I participated in his two week intensive workshop which culminated in a show by the AIDS Performance Team. Pieter was only here for about three weeks, but they were jam packed with education, laughter, tears, and love.

My first experience with Pieter consisted of advertising on the UCLA campus for his show, Elections and Erections. I worked very hard before I met Pieter, but once I finally had the chance to meet and talk with this amazing arts activist, only then did I realize the importance of my advertising push. It was absolutely CRITICAL that a large amount of the UCLA student body come to see Pieter’s show because here was a man who truly knew how take the audience on a journey of happiness and sorrow, and of carefree fun and education. That duality is what I learned from the show itself, how powerful it is to be hilarious one moment, and to be so serious the next. Pieter flows in and out of this paradox beautifully, throughout his one-man show and most importantly, throughout his educational show.

Pieter-Dirk Uys has been touring South African schools with his show, For Fact’s Sake, and David Gere at the Art | Global Health Center knew this part of Pieter had to be shared as well. So the AGHC worked very hard to bring a number of LAUSD high schools to Glorya Kaufman Hall to see Pieter and his wonderful exhibition of the facts of life. I was amazed sitting in the audience at how quickly the kids responded to this elderly, white South African gay man. He immediately won them over with his personality, his words, and his heart. And all the while, he educated them. Throughout the nervous laughter and the somber moments of silence, Pieter educated these kids on just what was out there, and how important it was to protect themselves. And he taught me so much through that show, but where I really learned was through the AIDS Performance Team.

For two weeks, four nights a week, three hours a night, twenty-one students acted out their fears and questions about HIV/AIDS in a workshop that culminated in a wonderful, one hour performance. Going in to the workshop, I did not quite know what to expect. But as soon as the first two nights were done, I knew something special was forming, and I knew that I could trust Pieter in leading our group to a place of powerful progress. We created skits about condoms, testing, stigma, and politics, and wrote our own monologues about personal experiences with the virus. There were off nights and on nights, there were funny moments and sad moments, and through it all Pieter kept gently pushing us forward. What began as a small showing at the end of the two weeks for family and friends in room 208 turned into a sold out, turning people away at the door performance for classes and organizations from around UCLA held in the wonderful Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater.

After the three weeks of Pieter-Dirk Uys, I was EXHAUSTED. From promoting to acting to writing to speaking, I had done it all, and done it all under the guidance and in the presence of what Nelson Mandela calls a “national treasure,” and he is. Pieter-Dirk Uys is nothing less than a universal treasure to us all, and I continue to learn from those amazingly exhausting three weeks of learning to laugh at my fear.

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