The UCLA Sex Squad is Here to Help
BY Neal Broverman
May 03 2012 7:32 PM ET
Gere worked with Kevin Caine, a theater director, to create a performance that used song and dance to convey messages about HIV, condom negotiation, bullying, sexual identity, and self-esteem. “It was amazing,” Gere recalls. “It unleashed something in the students and in us. We felt like there was direct communication happening.”
Pieter-Dirk Uys, South African performance artist and HIV activist, next took the reigns, refining the show. Visiting UCLA to show his own work, Uys was recruited by Gere to create the AIDS Performance Team, which injected racy humor into the original piece that Caine created.
“It [showed] how essential humor is to communication, even about difficult subjects,” Gere says. “The piece he made with students was very frank, very of the moment, very youthful.”
Bobby Gordon, a UCLA graduate and staffer with the Art and Global Health Center, worked with Uys on the AIDS Performance Team, and took over as director when Uys returned to Africa, renaming the Team the UCLA Sex Squad. Now in its second year, the Squad, whose members must audition to be in the troupe, regularly performs at Los Angeles-area schools, bringing the message to high school freshmen that sex is both a pleasure and a responsibility.
So, how do they get through to cynical teenagers? With Sesame Street spoofs featuring condom puppets discussing the proper way to put on protection (“don’t forget to pinch the tip!”) and the difference between fulfilling sex and “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” intercourse; with college students relaying their own embarrassing, hilarious, and often-universal first-time sexual experiences; with party scenes that depict how alcohol often makes people do irrational things. There are also interactive songs that require the audience to shout out the five body fluids that can spread HIV (blood, semen, pre-cum, vaginal fluids, and breast milk), interpretive dances with young women declaring their body is theirs alone, and gay performers frankly and unapologetically talking about their HIV fears. While some moments are emotional, even sad, they’re never heavy-handed or phony.