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Emotional Performances to Mark 30 Years of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

John Paradowski

Dozens of Performers will take the stage Friday night at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, in Brookfield.

They’ll help the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin begin marking its 30th anniversary. Over those decades, it has provided help ranging from HIV testing to behavioral health services.

The program,"Life Performance: Acts Against AIDS,” is open to the public. Tickets are available at the box office.

It makes sense to use art, to mark the ARCW’s anniversary, according to Mike Gifford, the organization’s president and CEO.

“The arts community in so many ways has been deeply impacted by the AIDS epidemic and has responded so powerfully throughout the course of the history of the epidemic,” Gifford says.

A couple years ago, Gifford chatted with Sharon Hansen and John Paradowski about putting on a performance. Paradowski is the Minister of Music/Organist at St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. Dr. Hansen is Professor Emerita of Conducting and Choral Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Hansen says at first they talked about a choir concert, but Gifford told them to “think big.”

“So, given the directive, ‘think big,’ we thought, OK, big -- Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Chamber Theater, First Stage,” Hansen says.

Hansen and Paradowski began recruiting arts groups. They ended up with about 70 performers, all volunteering their time. Hansen says actors will present dramatic selections.

Credit John Paradowski
Valarie Harmon and Davit Hovhannisyan of the Milwaukee Ballet will dance in Friday’s performance

“A wonderful monologue play, which winds up being a eulogy of a man whose partner has just died, and then First Stage, performing a small excerpt of the play, The Yellow Boat, which is the story of a little boy dying of AIDS. And it’s actually quite interesting that the playwright wrote the play, because that was his son, actually, who had died of AIDS,” Hansen says.

Singers also will share portions of the emotional story.

Hansen says it’s been a moving experience for the performers.

“There’s been tears in all of the rehearsals, certainly in the choir rehearsals. The words that we’re singing are very personally meaningful for many in the ensemble,” Hansen says.

The team formed five acts, to guide the audience through 30 years of battling HIV and AIDS.

“The first act is Acts of Lamentation, and the second act is Celebration, the third act is Mourning, and then we come back out of Mourning into Affirmation and Inspiration,” Hansen says.

A familiar tune will convey inspiration.

“We sing the wonderful piece from Carousel – ‘if you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark, the clouds are passing, don’t be afraid of the storm, walk on, and you’ll never walk alone.’”

Credit John Paradowski
Baritone Kurt Ollmann will help the ARCW mark its 30th anniversary year

ARCW President Mike Gifford expects a moving night for those on stage and in the audience, as many will have lost someone to AIDS.

He believes it’s important to reflect on those losses, at this 30-year mark, and to recall where the fight against AIDS began.

“We have to remember the AIDS epidemic of early 1980s and mid-1980s, it was a time of a lot of questions and not very many answers, it was a time of great illness and not many explanations, and it certainly was a time of death, but there was no time to grieve, because so many others were dying,” Gifford says.

Gifford’s hope is that this anniversary will be ARCW’s last big one. He dreams that AIDS will be eradicated, closing the center’s doors, before it turns 40.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.