By Tim Ford
Monday Magazine contributor
When Rick Waines was diagnosed with HIV, he thought his life was over.
“I found out in ‘87,” he says. “At that point, the writing was on the wall. Everyone was dying at that time.”
Yet in living with this terrible disease, Waines found himself connecting with fellow patients and a community of people that shared the same fear and anxiety he was experiencing. It was in working with that community Waines found his love of theatre, and among those experiences he credits a night at Morris Panych’s “The Cost of Living” as one of the defining moments in his future career.
“I fell in love with using stories to talk about how I felt about HIV and my own experiences,” Waines says.
Since 1987, he has worked both on stage and behind the scenes, acting with companies like Green Thumb Theatre (and earning a Jesse Richardson Award in the process). He has also provided live descriptions of plays, concerts and other events for people with vision loss as a VocalEye describer.
Through many of those years though, Waines had another career shift in mind: writing a new play.
In Secret/e, a project Waines has been working on since the early 2000s, he tells the story of a sexual assault victim who suddenly and strangely finds herself under criminal investigation.
“I wish I had gotten away from that ‘outline monkey,’” he says with a laugh, referring to a years-long routine he went through of “outlining” the show while procrastinating on writing it. “That first day of rehearsals is gonna be pretty exciting.”
The production, starring Jessica Lowry, Kett Turton and Matthew Payne, shows at the Intrepid Theatre Club from Nov. 27 – Dec. 1.
Waines is keeping the final plot that resulted from that whole process a pretty close “Secret/e,” but he says a key theme of the show is the criminalization of HIV. “I think our criminal justice system is operating with a manual that isn’t necessarily built to help people.”
Canadian law, he explains, still allows the prosecution of people with HIV who fail to disclose their condition to sexual partners. In 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada held that “the criminal law imposes a duty on a person to disclose HIV positive status before sexual activity that poses a “realistic possibility of transmission” so that the HIV negative sexual partner has the opportunity to choose whether to assume the risk of being infected with HIV.”
For Waines, that punitive measure has only further harmed people, rather than protected them. “Who’s in jail? Marginalized communities,” he says. “Who has disproportionately been the victims of criminalization? Indigenous women.”
Despite the heavy subject material, Waines wants people above all to come away entertained, and ready to talk. “I hope we end up with folks who’ve never thought of it,” he says. “What I hope is I’ve built something that is a good ride.”
Tickets for Secret/e are $10 and $20 are available online at eventbrite.ca.
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