Pride Index is thrilled to bring an update on the 2022 Future Leaders National Esteem Award winner, Tarik Daniels. Tarik is the Executive Director and Founder of Austin-based WhatsintheMirror, a justice movement and health awareness organization.
Recently he shared the skinny on his play Bedside. It tells the story of Trayvon and Marlon, a black queer couple navigating their world compounded by the epidemic of HIV. Seeking guidance from different faiths, their love of each other is ultimately the chosen path as Marlon is diagnosed with a terminal condition.
Bedside plays at The Vortex on May 24-26, 2023. Get your tickets here on eventbrite.
PrideIndex (PI): Talk about your play. Give me a quick rundown. And where did the idea come from?
Tarik Daniels (TD): Bedside is a love story about HIV, a black queer story about HIV. It is loosely based on my experience of a partner I lived with in the city of Atlanta, who passed away. It retells the story of the last eight months of our relationship. It’s a dramatized version. But it really goes into how black men and how we have to navigate HIV in this country. I wanted to be very direct about showing black queer love.
PI: What made you decide to go there and be candid about what you went through?
TD: It’s a dramatized version of my story. In 2020, when I was at the crossroads of doing my work with Western America around mental health, I wanted to get more into the HIV world. As a person living with HIV, I felt like it was so much that I could do to come out with my story and be open about being the person living with HIV. Around 2019 and 2020, I would go on Facebook and see messages about people back home in Detroit that had passed away due to HIV complications. And with all the biomedical advancements made with HIV, I could not understand why people were dying and why there was still a stigma. Why didn’t you see people openly living and thriving with HIV? People still put their HIV statuses on Facebook, social media, and hookup sites. People were being so positive-phobic. I felt like I could be part of a movement and be visible as someone living with HIV. It is the ten-year mark from learning about my status after going through all that with my partner. When he passed away in 2020 and after going through therapy, I felt like telling my story. Bedside is telling this story that impacted my life. It talks and his last days, the previous eight months of our relationship.
PI: Some might say, “If I were in your shoes and had to watch the story of my life, I would find it difficult to watch those sad memories.” How did you deal with some of that?
TD: Yeah, it’s very real, right? I’m still processing that, even during the rehearsal process. I did my first interview on YouTube, the first time I openly shared my story. That was the beginning of my coming up with the idea that I wanted to write Bedside. It took me two years to really finish writing this play. Two years is a lot of amount of time. I had to walk away from it several times to allow myself to grieve and process some of the emotions or things I went through that I didn’t process until now. It’s a challenge to not get choked up.
PI: Do you have an acting role in this play? Or are you just reserved for working behind the scenes?
TD: I want to just stay in that lane. I’m writing, producing, and being behind the scenes. I’ve had to tell myself to let the director direct. As the writer of this project, I’m already close to the project. This project is a workshop production. We’re still working on the script. I’m using this first production to help with the next version of this play.
PI: Were you involved in the casting process?
TD: I was slightly involved; I already worked with Jeremy Rashad Brown, the director. Jeremy took the lead and co-produced the project with me. And we’ve got these incredible actors to bring the story alive.
PI: Who are some of the others involved in this prize project?
TD: I want to start by saying that this project is explicitly co-produced by Wake Forest University School of Divinity and Gilead’s Compass Initiative, an HIV resource in the South. We have been working with them for a year, developing a project that brings awareness to HIV. I wanted to give them a shout out because they’ve been very instrumental in this project. I didn’t look at this as a story of faith. But as I began writing this specifically, with this funding from this cohort that I was a part of, it really started to shape the story I’m telling. We have actors Allen Portiere and Malik Julien. We’re working with The Vortex Theater, one of the oldest theaters in Austin, that’s been very receptive of the show, and we’re excited to be there.
PI: What were the biggest challenges in bringing this story together? And how did you overcome that challenge?
TD: What are the biggest challenges right now where I’m at? Hum. I want to ensure that this story will be seen by the people who need it most. The black queer population is small and Austin is claimed as the third largest gay community in U.S. It would be great for everyone to come to the show. I want all families to come out because education is very important; there’s a lot that you can learn from Bedside. I wrote this story for black, queer love, and black, queer youth and black queer folk dealing with HIV, whether they live with HIV are being impacted by HIV. The biggest challenge is ensuring the seats are filled by the people most affected by the story. And not just with people whose you know, just definitely entertainment or education, I want them there, too. So, I’m trying to figure out ways to get people living with HIV to get free tickets.
PI: Would you welcome this play being produced on a bigger scale? Possibly on Broadway?
TD: Yes! That’s why I appreciate this opportunity to tell the story with you right now. This is just the beginning of this project. This is a story that I’ve been wanting to share that means so much to me, and I will continue moving forward with this story. That is the idea for me to share it all over the country. Broadway and everywhere else.
PI: When and where is this going to take place?
TD: The show starts Wednesday, May 24-26th, in Austin, Texas, at the Vortex Theater, from 8:00 – 9:30 pm. The ticket price is $20. And if you are a person living with HIV and would like to attend this show, just email me at info@WhatsintheMirror.org so we can see how to get those free tickets to you.