First Time is a one-man show created and performed by Nathaniel Hall, in which he explores his experiences of contracting HIV during his first sexual experience at the age of 16.
He calls it the “most beautiful coincidence ever” that he’ll be acting the show out in Manchester from November 29-December 1, poignantly finishing on the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day.
After keeping his diagnosis a secret from his family for 14 years Nathaniel has created a transformative piece of art, which he hopes will be cathartic for him; a love letter to the NHS; an apology to his family for keeping his status a secret for so long; and an emboldening message of bravery and empowerment to everyone else.
Using a variety of mediums Nathaniel has created a show which is a mixture of comedy and real-life commentary, oscillating between stripped bare emotional moments and theatrical set pieces.
“I’m not a traditional theatre maker so I’m what have you got at your fingertips, what can you use what’s in the room,” he told MM.
“There’s quite a lot of elements of live art in what I do so, that involves things like lots of bad drag and lip syncing.
“There are two letters in the show and they are the real letters and it is the real words. They are very, very true and there’s no pretence added to those, they help ground the piece.
“Hopefully those are the moments that the audience will really connect – when the theatricality is kind of stripped away and they can see the real story behind it.”
The project is perfectly timed, with the announcement this year that Manchester is joining the fast-track network of cities stamping out new infections of HIV in a generation.
Nathaniel is using First Time to update media representations of HIV and provide education on new treatments and research pertaining to the condition.
“For me it’s about empowering people to tell their own stories.
“I think it was some time last year where I just thought ‘What’s out there in popular culture for HIV?’
“There’s loads of amazing stuff…this is not to discredit this stuff, there’s loads of amazing films, but even recent films such as 180 BPM or Dallas Buyers Club is another one.
“They are historical representations of the early AIDS crisis and I just thought ‘What would it be like for an audience to see what it’s like to live with HIV today?’
“It certainly ain’t no walk in the park still.
“Underneath it there’s a message of education without being too preachy, because I think there’s a general feeling that people living with HIV are a danger when they’re absolutely not.”
LETTERS TO HIS 16-YEAR-OLD SELF
After its stint at Trafford’s Waterside, First Time is hoping to tour and Nathaniel wants to make it accessible for all audiences who enjoy real stories.
The show is part of a wider program of events at Waterside marking the anniversary of World AIDS Day.
It takes place in partnership with PASH (Passionate About Sexual Health) and George House Trust, providing creative workshops, a gallery exhibition, rapid HIV testing and culminating in Nathaniel’s “Second Coming Out Party”.
Performing as part of such a momentous occasion is a touching experience for Nathaniel, who is using the experience as an opportunity for reflection.
“During one of the rehearsal days we were looking at the letter…I wrote a letter to my 16-year-old self and there was something very powerful.
“I’d always thought that it was me telling my 16-year-old self-things are going to be ok in the future. But actually, it was reversed and all of a sudden there was the 16-year-old me going ‘I’m sorry because this decision that I made, this thing that happened has had such a profound impact on your future.’
“But in a sense now I can go back to him and say it’s alright because something good is coming out of it finally.
“I think 17-year-old me would be very surprised and would be, by the end of it all, ready to have a dance with me at the party for sure.”
First Time is at Waterside, Trafford from 29/11/18 – 01/12/18 and was commissioned by The Waterside and Creative Industries Trafford; supported by a Superbia “Grants for the Arts”; Dibby Theatre; Contact, Manchester; and Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield.