“Bad shit in life makes for good art. Things that challenge us emotionally, politically and socially propel us to create. Having this terrible thing in my life has motivated me in a way. I have sort of resolved to not only not let it get me down but use it as a way to improve myself. And don’t get me wrong, I have very dark days. I have days where I sit around and mope ‘why me’ and wish I could travel back in time and change things. But ya know, that only gets you so far. So yeah, the old adage ‘what doesn’t kill you…’“
This is how being HIV positive has changed Dan Horrigan’s life as an artist, and has propelled him to debut as a solo performer with his show MY AiDS now playing at Urban Stages. “What started out as an exercise in trying to put together a sort of comedy act really evolved,” says Horrigan.”I decided that I would accept the encouragement of those around me who think I’m funny and try to create a sort of comedy act but I thought it would be a greater challenge to wrap all of my humor around something that is really difficult for me… which is being HIV positive.”
And a great sense of humor it is, Horrigan could coax a smile from Victoria Beckham; he ascribes it to watching a lot of television, and a tool he initially used as a defense mechanism and as a away of comforting himself. “If you make a joke about something that’s upsetting or confusing, you sort of exorcise the demon in it.”
AM-When did you feel you were ready to share your story and with what purpose?
DH- Ohmygod, I still don’t feel ready to share my story! But that kind of fear and always trying to get over it is motivating in a weird way. The purpose has changed over time. What started out as an exercise in trying to put together a sort of comedy act really evolved. I decided that I would accept the encouragement of those around me who think I’m funny and try to create a sort of comedy act but I thought it would be a greater challenge to wrap all of my humor around something that is really difficult for me… which is being HIV positive.
AM-Do you feel your story has taken a life of its own? That it has morphed from just your story to something more universal?
DH-It is starting to take a life of its own. I intend for it to take a life of its own. The more the show gets out there, the more people see it, the more it will. I did a reading of an earlier draft of MY AiDS a little over a year ago for a good friend who afterwards told me he was HIV positive. He didn’t know until I read the piece that I was positive. I didn’t know he was either. We’d both been kind of keeping it a secret. He found a kind of connection and comfort in the play. Then it all hit home how much it’s really universal. And not just if you have HIV but if you’ve ever had something totally terrifying and upsetting happen to you. (I have a whole posting about this on my blog that I invite everybody to read). There are nights at the show when I know so and so is coming and she lost her Mom a year ago or this guys coming and he’s battling cancer and that’s just the people I know! Bad shit is universal. So hopefully we can all just get together and have a good laugh about it.
AM-So you’ve popped your cherry as a solo artist. Do you feel more in control and safe performing by yourself, or is it an even bigger challenge?
DH -I love a good cherry poppin’! It’s still all so new to me. I never expected to ever write anything in my life and after college I was certain my performing days were over, so it’s all really, really surprising and wonderful. So yes, of course I have nerves and insecurities but with this piece which is mostly conversational, I’m actually not alone. I have a whole audience I am with. Once I establish that connection and relax it’s a little smoother sailing… and aren’t those the best kinds of conversations? Where you get all the attention?!!
AM-Who have been Dan’s little helpers in making this piece a reality.
DH-No little helpers. Only great big gigantic ones! And here’s where I get nervous about leaving anybody out! My roommate, Nick Catania has been listening to MY AiDS since I started scrapping it together and been my biggest supporter. At Hand Executive Director, Producer Extraordinaire and the Romy to my Michele, Justin Scribner! My director Dave Solomon has helped me craft the piece and keeps me from bullshitting. Scenic design -stress Shoko Kambara reached into my little brain and pulled out a fabulous homey, cozy environment for me… Zach Blaine our lighting designer has literally illumined my thoughts. Then there’s Angela Kiessel our stage manager who puts me in my place when I need it and keeps the whole thing going.
AM-You performed MY AiDS at The LGBT Center here in NYC before this production, how is this experience different?
DH -I loved doing it at the Gay Center. It was so off the cuff, informal and intimate. We’ve really tried to keep that vibe with the current production and I think we’re succeeding. It’s a bigger space and a more traditional theatre so I’m learning how to reach my audience because I can’t see every single person in the room with the lights and all. But the connection is still there. I do however look forward to performing it for whoever, wherever I can in any kind of space (conference room, college, Broadway, YOUR house) as long as I am connected to everyone in the room. The piece itself has changed a little in terms of story as things in my life have changed since the performance at The Center. I just want to keep it honest and fresh, so I think there will always be little changes here and there as time marches on and I continue to perform it.
AM-You are working alongside a lot of LGBT charities and foundations with this show. Why is philanthropy important to you?
DH-Justin Scribner (At Hand Executive Director) said it best. To paraphrase, it’s really wonderful and important to us (and to me) to be supporting a community AND to be supported by the LGBT community. It puts all of us in it together. I also think art is really inspiring and transformative. Working with these groups puts that transformative experience into action. You’re in the audience and you hear a story about a guy with HIV and realize that you in your own way have experienced that kind of shit. Then after the curtain call you hear about a group that helps people with HIV or helps victims of abuse, or works with gay youth, or provides shelter and NOW it’s universal. (back to that!) You identify, you sign up for their mailing list, you give what you have in your pocket, you write a check. Because it’s not just about me. It’s not just about you. So yeah, it’s a thrill to use my art to raise that kind of awareness.
MY AiDS will be playing at Urban Stages through March 1st. For more information visit www.athandtheatre.com