Inescapable: Erasing the Stigma with An Other Theater’s A Normal Heart
Performance & Theatre Arts
With the severity of the pandemic weighing them down, An Other Theater Company, a nonprofit theater in Utah County, had fewer options for developing and producing their usual, thought-provoking, inclusive performances. However, AOTC used available technology to make their productions streamable to wide audiences on any device. Artistic Director Shelby Noelle Gist believes that certain topics are more than worth the learning experiences formed by the An Other Theater online panel series that streamed in 2020. “The goal [of the panel series] was to create a place where people could talk about their experiences, struggles and goals … and listeners had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of the ‘othered’,” she says. Those that were sharing and discussing these experiences were BIPOC or belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Since the panel series, AOTC has hosted Zoom play readings and production revivals. Some official productions were held online such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Fossil Record. An all new production, A Normal Heart, is in development with plans to open in the summer.
Being in Utah, marginalized experiences are often overlooked within the white, cis Mormon community of Utah county where An Other Theater resides. Similarly, when programming their shows, An Other Theater puts just as much emphasis on those issues and identities in the casting and producing of their shows.
“The goal [of the panel series] was to create a place where people could talk about their experiences, struggles and goals …”
A Normal Heart is a drama based on the true story of the AIDS crisis in New York. The story follows Ned Weeks, activist and caretaker of those lovers and friends who have fallen victim to the disease. Although the story of A Normal Heart takes place some 40 years ago, a lot of the material in the show still holds relevance today. Kacey Spadafora, Co-Founder, says, “There’s some poetic parallel in essentially a large mishandling of a pandemic leading us to cancel a show about a large mishandling of an epidemic.” These connections can be uniting and even therapeutic for those living through the pandemic. Show writers at An Other Theater find these stories and experiences are “powerful tools to foster empathy and understanding between people with extremely different life experiences before and after the show is happening,” Spadafora says.
A Normal Heart is intense because of the experiences it will be portraying to an audience. Spadafora speaks on An Other Theater’s key to success when bringing a story like this to life: “The first, last and every instance really must come back to empathy; understanding that these are real people with flaws facing real, existential fears helps paint the production in a way that not only is powerful, but also fiercely approachable,” he says.
“There’s some poetic parallel in essentially a large mishandling of a pandemic leading us to cancel a show about a large mishandling of an epidemic.”
Since the story of A Normal Heart is one of harrowing truth and a show of this nature has its own challenges with representation and production, An Other Theater has had their own internal struggles with a venue. “Well, I have to say one of the biggest challenges was being booted from our space shortly after we’d cast the show!” Spadafora says. Amid the pandemic, unexpected circumstances led to there being no permanent location for the theater currently. An Other Theater was scrambling to find a new location and instilling the cast with confidence that progress will be made. A show such as A Normal Heart can deliver a piece of true art and masterful storytelling and also serve as a basis for the erasure of the stigma and discrimination toward AIDS/HIV in the past as well as the future.
Read more on An Other Theater Company:
Igniting Empathy with An Other Theater Company