AIDS politicized a generation of gay men in America who found their bodies and desires at the epicenter of a cultural, medical and political crisis. David Drake’s one-man show The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me captures this experience.

Twenty years after it debuted it is back, reconceived with an ensemble cast. Speaking with activist, writer, and original producer Sean Strub of the Sero Project, we get a sense of why the show is being remounted, the swirling ideas of hope and determination in the air, and what has been going on in the two decades since its debut.

Visual AIDS: Twenty years ago you, and Tom Viola from Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS produced The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me and here you are back at it. What was the world like for you back then that lead you to get involved?
I never anticipated the show becoming such a hit; I didn't really think about its potential success, I just felt compelled to produce it because it so perfectly and powerfully reflected the activist zeitgeist of the moment. I wanted the whole world to see it. I had never produced theatre before and it certainly wasn't a business decision. It was part of a several years-long frenzy I felt to do everything I possibly could—get arrested! produce theater! run for Congress! start a magazine!—to try and mobilize and educate. With the play, I was lucky enough to hook up with Tom Viola and find someone who knew a lot more about producing theatre than did I.

Visual AIDS: We are in a moment of “AIDS Crisis Revisitation”, where, through films, and reunions, people are having a chance to look back at a very intense time. What is some of the thinking behind remounting the show now?

There is a lot of interest in revisiting earlier days in the epidemic and sometimes that's bordered on a kind of romanticism or nostalgia that can be distracting and enable people to be blind to what is going on right now, so that's a concern. On the other hand, enough time has passed since the very worst days of daily death that we can have some perspective now. If one considers the cultural production after the Holocaust, the bulk of the important books and films didn't appear in the 1940s or even 1950s, but they kicked in after 1960, when the horrific shock of what happened had subsided somewhat and a broader, historical perspective could be considered. I think something similar is underway right now.

I also think it is important that we revisit the earliest days critically and not just fall into the easy trap of critiquing the government's neglect, or exploitation by political or religious opponents, but also to look at our own community, our own leadership and the mistakes we made, because there were plenty. In terms of the show, I don't think of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me as something from the "early days" of the epidemic; to me it was right at the peak just before combination therapy was introduced.

The show was immensely popular and has been produced all over the world. Frequently people have suggested to David or me or Tom Viola that we bring it back and this seemed like a good time to do so and Broadway Cares, bless its generous soul, was willing to take it on.

Visual AIDS: Originally it was a one-man show. Now it is a large ensemble. As an activist and an organizer, what are your thoughts on this re-staging?
The show emerged from the experience of one man, David Drake, becoming politicized and an activist, as happened to so many of us. That individual experience became a collective one and ultimately a movement; making the show a production with an ensemble cast is an extension of its initial private and personal expression. It also made it a new creative challenge for David and Robert LaFosse, who is directing this production, and allowed the show and its message to be owned even more broadly by the community.

David's writing is amazingly precise; in some ways, it seems like it was always written for an ensemble cast but initially David just performed everything himself. Not that I'm calling him a control queen or anything... It also kept it from being just a revival of a period piece; we want The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me to say something about the epidemic today and motivate people today to the activism that is urgently needed.

Visual AIDS: The money raised for this one night only show is benefiting Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS and the Sero Project. What will the funds make possible for Sero?
Sero is a network of people with HIV organizing and empowering others with HIV to combat HIV-related stigma, discrimination and criminalization, all of which are on the increase. We conduct research to inform better public policy, particularly concerning criminal statutes, facilitate a prison project for people with HIV who are incarcerated, educate and mobilize grassroots activism and work with the media.

Our view is that stigma isn't best combatted by buying billboards and bus ads by trying to "change the minds" of stigmatizers; it is best combatted by empowering and engaging the stigmatized. We also believe in supporting networks of people with HIV--like the Positive Women's Network, International Community of Women with HIV, Campaign to END AIDS and the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, as well as Sero—because networks of people with HIV enable us to select our own leaders and spokespeople, rather than have other organizations and interests decide which people with HIV they want to be our representatives.

The criminalization work that is the core of our current focus is a real crisis. People with HIV are getting decades in prison and lifetime sex offender registration requirements for being unable to prove they disclosed their HIV status prior to having sex, even when they used a condom, had an undetectable viral load and posed no risk of HIV transmission. Others are sentenced for decades for spitting, scratching or biting accusations, which also don't transmit HIV. People with HIV are increasingly seen by the public health and criminal justice systems through the lens of our "potential to infect" as "viral vectors", defined as inherently dangerous. That's frightening to me, as someone with HIV, and should be of concern to everyone. There's no more extreme manifestation of stigma than when it is enshrined in the law, like with the viral underclass we're now creating.

Visual AIDS: If people are on the fence about coming to the show, what would you say to help entice them?
There are only a handful of tickets left, so hurry. The show is moving and emotionally powerful, but also incredibly joyous. The energy and enthusiasm from the ensemble cast is inspirational. Anyone who laments that "young people" aren't motivated or don't care about AIDS or aren't adequately activist-oriented just hasn't been in touch with what young people are really doing, whether it is through QUEEROCRACY, ACT UP, Visual AIDS, Queers for Economic Justice, or through their work in theatre and other arts. It is amazing and satisfying and can't help but give one hope.

Finally, seeing the show is worth it just to marvel at how David Drake's abs have remained so tight for more than 20 years. How does he do it?

To buy tickets, and for more information about The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me go to: BROADWAY CARES.
For more information about Strub's work on HIV Criminalization visit: SeroProject.com

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me
Monday, May 20, 8 pm
Gerard W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
524 West 59th Street, NYC