Love is a genuine emotion that has survived, even flourished, over the ages, as in Columbian Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Now Dawson Atkin, a third year music composition student at The Hartt School in West Hartford has focused his new musical on love in the time of HIV/AIDS in the mid 1980s to the early 1990s. His work began as a 10-minute school project and has blossomed over time into a full 45-minute piece that will be featured in the Hartford Fringe Festival through Nov. 9, as an online film.
All of the more than a dozen films about clowns and circuses, play companies, psychological problems, magic, love relationships, are $10 each or $99 for the series.
The first Fringe Festival was in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1947. Those theaters not invited to participate created their own “happening” on the outskirts or fringe of town, with out-of-the-envelope works that boldly craved attention. Their popularity out sparked the original, and now America is home to more fringe festivals than any other country. While this year, the Edinburgh festival will not take place due to the pandemic, just short two years ago it boasted 55 performances of 3,548 different shows in 317 venues over 25 days.
For Dawson Atkin, this Fringe Festival in Hartford is a wonderful way to showcase his new work, with lyricist N.J. Collay, featuring Sam Vana, both Hartt students. Sam plays an unnamed character who watches his life partner be diagnosed with and eventually die from HIV/AIDS. The musical, that features such works as “Your Hand Is Mine,” “Eulogies” and ”Coming Back ” is entitled “Your Notes on You and Me.” It depicts what it means to live through a deeply personal tragedy, trying to balance the national need for political activism with the crushing obligation to be present in the grim reality of love and illness and loss.
While Dawson was not old enough to remember this historic moment in time, he embraces the grief elements and is “really proud of the results.” He feels Sam took the material and really ran with it, singing out and acting and playing his guitar. Going virtual gave Dawson the opportunity to do film editing but he hopes to develop the work further and create a live version.
He feels strongly that “once people are gone, we’re less able to tell their stories, but we must. How can you describe a fire, if all that is left are ashes?”
The music he composed to tell his story falls in two genres: folk and the theatrical style of William Finn. At the end of the day, it is memories that keep loved ones alive. With HIV/AIDS, the crime is that it was ignored too long and so many did not need to lose their lives.
It remains to be seen what impact the recent announcement by Pope Francis in support of same-sex civil unions will have on the Roman Catholic Church.
Stating that gay people are children of God could open a dialogue of change with far reaching consequences. It may provide Dawson Atkin with enough new material to compose another musical about love in the time of Covid.
The Hartford Fringe Festival in its second year is all virtual, on Vimeo. Go to www.hartfordfringefestival.org/.