A personal perspective by John Roman Baker
Aids Positive Underground Theatre (Aputheatre) began in Brighton, England (the so-called San Francisco of Europe) in 1989 as a cultural response to Aids: not Aids in general, but a response specifically aimed at homosexual situations. We began well at the Brighton Arts Festival, which is second to Edinburgh for its diversity and sense of adventure. The first play we did, Crying Celibate Tears portrayed the London world of 1989 involving four gay men in the last so-called glory of the Thatcher years. It was a success and we sold out every night. That year we were a fringe event, but in 1990 we were put into the main part of the Festival. That is when Heroes, then called The Ice Pick was first performed. Once again we were such a success that the main festival theatre award was given to us jointly with Moscow’s Satyricon Theatre, who were performing a much applauded production of Genet’s The Maids. From then until 1997 when as a company we decided to move to The Netherlands, we featured in the Brighton Festival with three visits to the Edinburgh Festival where once again we sold out.
Clearly a cultural response to gay Aids in England and Scotland was vital and necessary during the early 1990’s when the West was succumbing to a wave of panic, moral and physical. And with subsequent success here with the Dutch public in Amsterdam we have shown the need is still very much there. Aids may be rarely talked about in Holland among the gay community, but they certainly queued up to see what we had to offer.
In all we have produced 18 productions in the 10 years of our existence: some reproduced in other countries like Italy and the United States. In Italy especially we had a positive response to all four productions that we have so far taken there, but money has been difficult, because we were labeled subversive in England and twice the Brighton Festival was attacked financially for having us in there programme. The moral league tried to destroy us, but never succeeded. As we had no official subsidy our work had to succeed and, the small financial gains that we made were made performing in other countries. It was quite simple – if we did not fill our theatres then there would be no money for the next production consequently we could not have the luxury of a failed play. Once or twice we were less good than other times, but overall our standards had to remain high. When I got depressed I read Peter Brook and Grotowski’s “Towards a Poor Theatre”. I wanted to see Grotowski’s laboratory theatre that so much inspired me in theory but never had the occasion to see them in action.
John Roman Baker
Aputheatre, Amsterdam 1999