A NEW walking performance exploring Perth during the 1980s AIDS crisis has unearthed a rich history its developer feared was at risk of being lost.
Noemie Huttner-Koros’s The Lion Never Sleeps takes the audience through the Northbridge streets where the queer community gathered, danced and fought the discrimination they faced during the 80s and early 90s.
Huttner-Koros, 22, interviewed those who lived through the AIDS crisis for the audio component of her work.
“Most of the people I spoke to, during the most intense period of the AIDS crisis, they were losing friends every single week,” she said.
Huttner-Koros said one of the men told her hospital staff “had no idea what to do, there was such fear”.
The man’s female partner was in a wheelchair and when they arrived at hospital an orderly told them to wait for half an hour while she got some tests done.
When she didn’t return for two hours he went looking and found her, alone in an elevator going up and down between floors.
“The orderly had seen she’d had AIDS, and just bolted, because there was so much fear of how it was transmitted.”
Another man’s neighbours moved out from the flat next door when they discovered he had AIDS.
“They thought AIDS could come through the wall,” Huttner-Koros said.
Amidst the fear and loss, there were acts of moving kindness.
One story told of a group of friends who carried a man in a wheelchair up the long flight of stairs to Connections nightclub so he could have one last knees-up before the disease took his life.
In the pre-Grindr era gay-friendly venues were a vital part of the culture, and Huttner-Koros’s performance takes the audience to important sites with an audio track playing the interviews over headphones.
“We travel as a group, and that’s also pretty important to the show—recreating that feeling of safety in numbers,” she said.
A couple of places like Connections are still around (it’s been going 44 years) while others like the short-lived Pineapple Dance nearby are just memories.
The work’s title comes from one of the prominent gay bars of the 80s, the Red Lion Tavern.
It became the Aberdeen Hotel in 1990, but in its heyday “it was a really important spot for LGBTQI+ people, and it was apparently fabulous. Really incredible drag shows,” Huttner-Koros said.
She developed the show after meeting Los Angeles queer icon Cassils at the “Still Here” LGBTQIA+ artists’ lab put on by Propel Youth Arts earlier this year.
“This artist from LA knew so much about where they’re from, and that queer history, but I was sure that there were stories here.”
A generation gap in the LGBTQI+ community between those coming of age in more liberal times, and older folk who survived an era when they were criminalised and shamed, had Huttner-Koros fearing the history wasn’t being passed down.
When she reached out to the older generation for interviews, she found “people have been so generous. I’ve learned a lot … there are some really incredible stories about unsung heroes around Perth who held the community together”.
The Lion Never Sleeps runs July 24, 25 and 26. The walk starts at the Blue Room and it’s part of the theatre’s Winter Nights program. Full lineup and tickets are at blueroom.org.au
by DAVID BELL