An Artistic Remembrance

By Mariah Kline

Actors Theatre recently launched their 2017-18 season with the opening of “Angels in America,” the epic, two-part play that takes place during the onset of the AIDS epidemic. To further the show’s impactful message, Actors is showing two panels from the world-renowned AIDS Quilt. The 12 by 12 feet display is now hanging in the theater’s lobby and free for the public to view.

The creation of the AIDS Quilt started in 1985, and it was shown publicly for the first time in 1987. The inspiration for the Quilt came from a group of San Francisco activists who wrote the names of people they knew who died of AIDS on placards. Once these placards were placed side by side on a wall, activist Cleve Jones noticed that the display resembled that of a patchwork quilt and the idea stuck. The creation of the Quilt and the NAMES Project Foundation, who is responsible for its care, followed shortly thereafter.

Each panel of the Quilt measures three feet wide and six feet long, roughly the same size as a grave. Friends, family members and significant others have created the panels to remember their lost loved ones and ensure that history remembers them as well. While there was a great deal of backlash over its unveiling in the 1980s, the Quilt called the public’s attention to HIV and AIDS and made many realize what a devastating impact these diseases were having on the nation.

Jacob Turner, Alexia Hall and Pierre Vendette.

Over the years, the Quilt has been added onto and become far larger than anyone could have ever imagined. The piece in its entirety is now made up of more than 48,000 panels, weighs 54 tons and stretches over 50 miles long. Due to its massive size, Actors Theatre is currently hosting just two panels. The idea to host it there began in a production meeting for “Angels in America.” Artistic Director Meredith McDonough, who is also directing the play, mentioned that she viewed the quilt in Chicago and was very intrigued by it. The informal idea became a reality once Laura Humble, the theater’s marketing and communications director, contacted the NAMES Project and requested to host the Quilt.

When the theater initially applied, Humble says they had no preference about which panels the NAMES Project sent and they would be happy with whatever pieces they were given. However, once they learned Actors was presenting “Angels in America,” the Project sent the panel that includes the name of Roy Cohn, the controversial attorney who died of AIDS and has a fictionalized role in “Angels.” The other panel on display includes the names of six Kentuckians, including father and daughter Keith Gordon and Courtney Gordon.

Today, the AIDS Quilt has become the largest community art project in history. Seeing this poignant and unique piece of art in person is a profoundly emotional experience that everyone should experience firsthand.

“If you take the time to read each name and read about the Quilt as a whole, it’s a very moving thing,” says Humble. “Everyone should come see it, especially because it has such an important connection to both our state and our community.” VT

The AIDS Quilt at Actors Theatre

Now through November 2