It tells the story of teenagers growing up amidst an AIDS epidemic and their desire for some straight talk from adults.
“Everything is autobiographical and based on truth. So everything comes from us,” says cast member Jamir Nelson.
In language that is often blunt and always soul-searching, these teens tell of living in neighborhoods where talk about AIDS is taboo and the disease is often referred to as “the big one.”
In one of the most memorable moments of the play, the teens re-enact a conversation between a mother and son.
The boy says, “I tried to ask my mom what ‘the big one was.'”
The mother replies, “As long as you stay on the straight and narrow, you will never catch it.”
Kylend Adams says that is the central theme of the play.
“We are not just here for our peers, we are also here for our parents to let them know this is what we want to talk about … This is what we have questions about … This is what we want to know,” she says.
Cast members all played a role in putting the production together and searched their own lives for inspiration. “Bubbles” Smith — whose nickname matches her personality — says, “I went back to a feeling in the heart … a longing to want to know something from your parents.”
Smith says kids are curious but reluctant to bring up certain topics, like sexuality and AIDS “because you don’t know how you are going to be looked at … so you just hide in shame.”
Many cast members say they eventually found answers to these questions at the HIV/AIDS prevention group Metro TeenAIDS, which is part of the “Voices of Now” program at Arena Stage.
It’s a unique program that takes small ensembles from schools and community organizations and matches them up with theatre professionals. Each of the 11 ensembles “works with advisors to create original autobiographical theatre intended to pose important social question and start a dialogue,” says Ashley Forman, director of education programming for Arena Stage.
Forman, who runs “Voices of Now,” says the teens behind “Pulled Apart” surprise her every day. She looks at them with pride after their debut at the AIDS Conference and says “they are astonishing, beautiful, amazing artists.”