GSK's ViiV heads to New York with off-Broadway show about black gay men with HIV

ViiV Healthcare’s award-winning theatrical performance about the real-life experiences of black gay men living with HIV debuts in New York this week. “As Much As I Can,” which picked up a Cannes Lions silver award this summer, is about the lives of black gay and bisexual men in Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi.

ViiV, GlaxoSmithKline’s HIV-focused arm, surfaced the details and scenarios in the show—starting with the fact that Baltimore and Jackson were two of the cities hardest hit by the HIV epidemic—as part of the ethnographic research in its four-year Accelerate! Initiative.

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Set up as a “day in the life” of a group of friends, the immersive theater show probes the difficulties and stigma that black gay and bisexual men with HIV and AIDS face in the South. The New York shows are at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, with two performances a night from Sept. 12-16.

“One part moral obligation, one part story within a story, one part extravaganza, 'As Much As I Can' asks all of us what part we are willing to play in ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States," the Public Theater says on its website.

ViiV began the road to the performance with the Accelerate data in hand. Studio Harley & Company encouraged it to go beyond a static white paper or report.

“Culture really allows you to access people at a deeper level on an issue and to drive change. As opposed to seeing a billboard or something, when you’re in this immersive theater experience, you’re there for one and a half hours immersed in a subject and that allows a level of complexity and examination of the issues,” Marc Meachem, head of external affairs in North America for ViiV, said.

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The show has already run twice in Baltimore, twice in Jackson and one time in Harlem. ViiV is hoping that by taking the show to New York off-Broadway, it will generate more discussion and possible future opportunities to continue.

Earlier shows asked patrons to fill out surveys, Meachem said, and two key ideas rose to the top. “People communicated that this made them look at things differently in terms of HIV, relationships and the number of issues (they face), and also indicated a desire to take action based on what they saw,” he said.

While HIV drugs and messaging have been around for years, still only 51% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are considered virally suppressed. For ViiV, that means the current approach isn’t effective enough.

“We believe ending the epidemic is going to require a different approach than the one we currently use, which is only getting us about one out of every two people virally suppressed. We won’t get there without engaging the communities we’re serving and the communities at risk and involving them in the solution,” Meachem said.