While the world is gripped by the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be easy to forget previous deadly viruses that shook the world, like HIV and AIDS.
Shane Bosher’s award winning play, Everything After, is a confronting look at everything that came after the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1990s.
It delves into the ongoing pain and trauma that many survivors carry with them now.
“For me, AIDS was like somebody threw a bomb into a train carriage and you’re just going ‘that one’s dead, that one’s dying, who do you save, where do you start’,” HIV activist Michael Stevens says.
“That was an incredibly traumatic experience to go through. I’m so glad younger people don’t have to deal with it but they should know that’s part of our history, and a lot of people from my generation do have a degree of trauma still from that time.”
Stevens was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.
“It nearly killed me. I got so weak, I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t breathe,” he says.
He fought on until live saving medication came out in 1996, but says back then “HIV equalled death”.
“The doctor listened to my history and said ‘you should assume you’ve got it and you should have about two years to live, if I were you, I’d go back to New Zealand and get ready to die’.”
Since the first case was detected in the 1980s, an estimated 35 million people have died due to HIV AIDS.
That’s not the case now. HIV numbers have been steadily decreasing over the past decade, now only around 200 people getting diagnosed with the disease every year, and hardly any dying from it.
While Steven’s says it’s now a part of life that we have to learn to live with, he’s disappointed why there hasn’t been a vaccine developed till this day.
“It’s still really concerning to think there is no vaccine for HIV. There is some hope with discussions around the work of Covid that there might be some possibility of some HIV vaccines being developed but it feels like it’s been a very long time that we’ve had this virus sitting there and it hasn’t had the energy or the attention paid to it to develop a vaccine.”
A play, written and directed by Bosher, showing in Q Theatre in Auckland right now, gives attention to not just the epidemic that killed off a whole generation, but the pain and suffering that lives on in the lives of many survivors.
“I realised there was a story that had been untold,” Bosher says.
“Everything After is about a character called Nick who has been living with HIV since the 1980s. He has been an activist, he’s a staunch cheerleader for sexual health and he works for a prevention agency for the play and it’s about how he grapples with the brave new world.
“He lives with extraordinary trauma from the pandemic and it’s about how all of those things I suppose exist alongside each other.”
Simon Leary, one of the actor’s in the play, says it has “given me a huge new perspective on HIV and AIDS. It’s informed gay culture certainly and an important story that needs to be told but so few Kiwi stories have done that”.
“These are people just like you and I that have been thrust into this impossible situation that’s really a scary time for people who are just trying to have fun and live their life,” Leary says.
For Stevens, watching the show for the first time he said “it pushed buttons for me quite often”.
“I was crying at different times. It was very true to life.”
Bosher describes the play as “confronting” and says many people would come up to him after the show still shocked and processing what they had just seen on stage.