Theater-901 Production ‘An Endangered Species: Waking Up’ Brings Awareness to AIDS

The play portrays a group of high school students affected by AIDS. The friends of one character gather around his deathbed as he suffers from the disease.

With a final chant of “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I ‘wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,” Jason, portrayed by Alex Schimmel ’22, collapses on his deathbed, a victim to the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. After Jason’s death, the rest of the friend group dies one by one, until only Ellie, the narrator, is left to recount the story.

“An Endangered Species: Waking Up,” a Theater-901 production directed by Sam Wright ’19, took place on both Friday and Saturday night last weekend. The play tackled dealing with AIDS in the wake of a nationwide epidemic, as well as the social repercussions of the diagnosis. The play centers around a group of high school friends who each learn they have AIDS.

According to Wright, the cast had to learn and understand the historical context of the play in order to accurately portray their characters.

“We had to have a couple of talks at the beginning about the time period… and we had to do a couple of debriefing sessions, get the history of it. I tried my best not to romanticize the whole thing. I wanted to keep the performances as genuine as possible. This is a sensitive topic, and it might be fading nowadays but it’s still really important,” said Wright.

Set in an ordinary town, “An Endangered Species: Waking Up” portrays a typical high school, which highlights the prevalence of AIDS. The play targets high school audiences and raises awareness for the disease.

“I think that this play was very influential and it shows how AIDs and HIV virus is such a big problem, but it’s never fully addressed until it affects someone that you know close to you or your friends. It was really good and I think it shows everyone how close to home the virus or anything like that can hit,” said Katherine Bell ’22, an audience member.

According to cast members, developing their characters required time and patience. In addition, because of the subject matter, their parts called for an unprecedented amount of emotional strength.

“It was a pretty intense experience. I’ve never had to delve this deep emotionally into a role before but it was interesting for me… We approached [“An Endangered Species: Waking Up”] with caution and slowly. We learned a lot about the time [period] before starting and I think that helped us a lot to get some sort of perspective on what it’s like to play someone with HIV,” said Harry Whitman ’20, a cast member.

According to Wright, the transition from acting to directing was not the easiest, and he faced numerous challenges as a leader for the group.

“[With] acting, you’re getting told what to do; it’s easier. It’s on you if you make a mistake and you have the power to fix that for yourself. As a director, you’re the one making the decisions and then if something happens, you have no control over it. It’s a lot more stressful really, but it’s all good. I love doing this and I have such a great respect for directors now, I don’t know how they do it constantly,” said Wright.