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Last modified: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Living history: Terry LaBolt shares his personal experience living with AIDS

Editors: The following piece was written by Terry LaBolt, musical director for Indiana University's Musical Theatre program in the Department of Theatre and Drama.

"I have avoided the musical Rent for many years. But now, more than twenty years have passed since the events surrounding it took place; the time is right.

Terry LaBolt

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Terry LaBolt

Print-Quality Photo

"I was there, in New York, in 1986. I watched my friends grow pale, go blind, or get pneumonia or cancer, and die. Slowly. Painfully. Dozens and dozens of them. I watched their partners and parents desert them. I watched the doctors and nurses refuse to touch them. I watched the FDA ignore the crisis. And I watched unlikely allies like Elizabeth Taylor and Ryan White become champions in the battle against AIDS. I was diagnosed with AIDS myself in that year of 1986. And for some reason I survived. And I discovered that survival itself can be quite a battle.

"I had several months to figure out how to communicate this to the cast of young actors here at Indiana. But I knew that in order for them to understand the piece, I would have to share my experiences. At the first rehearsal I stepped into the center of the room. I gazed down at the model of the set for our production. I had not seen Alphabet City since the 1980's. A wave of grief and sadness swept over me, and I wept openly. We all did. The wave passed, and I heard myself taking them on the journey, in the present tense. I described the hopelessness, the anger and the fear. I told them how each day I inspected my body for signs of illness: a red blotch, a swollen gland. But in my case these signs never appeared. Most of my adult life has been spent wondering why. But in that moment of speaking to this group of my beloved students, the reason became quite clear. I am the history of AIDS, and I am here to tell the story. Let no one who hears it ever forget. I dedicate my life and work to all those who did not survive the journey."

--Terry LaBolt, Music Director of Musical Theatre, Department of Theatre and Drama