Performance » Theater

For Caring Out Loud

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When David Murray appears on stage with his double bass at Clowes Memorial Hall May 19, he'll do so as a veteran of a 20-year Indianapolis tradition reoccurring that night.

The principal bassist for the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and a music professor at Butler University, Murray has been performing in the annual Spotlight fundraiser for more than half of its existence. Like the rest of the local musicians, stagehands and organizers of the event, he gives time and talent so 95 percent of its donations go to their intended cause – HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention. Last year, Spotlight netted $367,000.

"I've lost many friends over the years to AIDS," says Murray. "It's just a cause that is obviously near and dear to my heart."

It's close to home too. Murray is HIV positive.

David Murray, principal bassist for Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and Butler University music professor, will leverage his talents to support HIV and AIDS research and prevention. Murray was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • David Murray, principal bassist for Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and Butler University music professor, will leverage his talents to support HIV and AIDS research and prevention. Murray was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987.

He is reminded of his status four times a day when he takes the cocktail of pills that keeps the human immunodeficiency virus inside his body at bay. The 55-year-old received his diagnosis in Colorado in 1987 after a test at a walk-in clinic at a music festival. But, thanks to medical advances surrounding the disease and Murray's good health, he hasn't developed AIDS in the nearly three decades he's been living with HIV.

"Since the cocktails came in, in the earlier 1990s, people are living a long time," Murray says. (He's one of 10,000 to 11,000 in Indiana diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.) "And there haven't been any limits. I'm still kicking."

Murray lives a mostly normal -- even boring, if you ask his doctor -- life. Married in Canada a decade ago to Bud, his partner of 25 years, Murray teaches at Butler, plays his bass in the Chamber Orchestra and tries to stay healthy by exercising, getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods. Until now, only his family and close friends knew of his status.

Even while performing at Spotlight, where he knows the other artists would be supportive, Murray hasn't said a word. And telling people is the only way anyone could know the khakis-and-button-down-shirt-wearing professor with a vivid sense of humor and two cats is different.

This spring, though, as Spotlight marks its 20th year, its theme "Out Loud" holds an even deeper meaning for Murray. He is taking the theme to heart and hoping to become a role model by offering his success story to others who are affected by the disease -- 500 new cases of HIV show up in Indiana annually and there are 50,000 across the United States.

"I've been living with this thing for 26 years now," he says. "I've got a career. I'm still really busy, and I've got a family and a community. I feel very positive and I think (my story) will help people stay positive."

Murray knows he is lucky -- so much so that, at times, he suffers from survivors' guilt. Many of his friends with his same diagnosis are dead.

"Sometimes (I ask), "Why me? Why am I allowed to survive this and other people are not?" he says.

Spotlight's 2010 and 2011 line-ups included performances from Dance Kaleidoscope, Actors Theatre of Indiana and Asia LaBouche of the Ladies of Legends at Talbott Street. - JAY HAGENOW
  • Jay Hagenow
  • Spotlight's 2010 and 2011 line-ups included performances from Dance Kaleidoscope, Actors Theatre of Indiana and Asia LaBouche of the Ladies of Legends at Talbott Street.

The making of 'Spotlight'

Memories of friends who didn't survive inspired the first Spotlight, called PARTners Performing for Life, in 1993.

Dance Kaleidoscope Artistic Director David Hochoy moved to Indianapolis in the early 1990s, after seeing the effects of HIV and AIDS in New York City in the 1980s when he was dancing in the famed Martha Graham Dance Company. Motivated by a fundraiser in which he participated in New York and moved by the number of friends he lost to the disease, Hochoy suggested one for Indianapolis. Former Indiana Repertory Theatre artistic director Libby Appel agreed.

"She sent out the first letter on IRT letterhead asking for a meeting of all the artistic directors," Hochoy remembers. "They all came including (Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Conductor Laureate) Raymond Leppard. That's how it started."

In 1993, they raised about $40,000 with the first variety show that included the city's major performing arts organizations. Now, Spotlight nets about $400,000 annually.

The money accounts for just over half of The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis' HIV/AIDS efforts. The organization spends about $700,000 annually in testing, education, case management, treatment and prevention, according to Betty Wilson, president and CEO. And almost $400,000 of that comes from Spotlight, an event Wilson considers one of the city's best cultural experiences.

"When you think that this event brings in half the money we as a private funder give away, it's really significant," says Wilson. "We need to fill all of those seats!"

"It's really a wonderful day of sharing each other's gifts and talents," says Hochoy, who directs the show every year. "It's community building for the arts community. I can't think of anything else we do together."

And they do it in a day's time.

The annual collaboration comes together between about 9 a.m. and showtime (this year, 8 p.m.) on the day of the event. Hochoy arrives early to begin orchestrating the rehearsals that run through 6 p.m. One by one, each act uses a tiny 15 to 20-minute window to practice its part on stage. Recently, so many organizations have offered to take part that they all can't perform in the same year so this year regulars, including Hochoy's Dance Kaleidoscope, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indiana Repertory Theatre are sitting out to allow six new groups to participate in the 15-act show.

On with the show

Watching the event come together from behind the scenes, is a treat for Lisa Sirkin Vielee, Spotlight's communications director.

"What's neat about it is it's a real family environment. Everybody knows why they are there and the artistic egos are checked at the door," she says. "There is just this vibe ... I almost enjoy rehearsal time better than the show. You can just feel that there is just a real energy in the room. You would think it would be so frantic. It is really pretty amazing."

Indianapolis Men's Chorus, seen here in its Spotlight 2011 performance, is scheduled to participate in the 2014 fundraiser. - JAY HAGENOW
  • Jay Hagenow
  • Indianapolis Men's Chorus, seen here in its Spotlight 2011 performance, is scheduled to participate in the 2014 fundraiser.

It is also eclectic.

Some of the city's most colorful characters dress up and rub shoulders with guests for the occasion.

Indianapolis' Coby Palmer and his Indy Pride Bag Ladies drag queens are Spotlight's unofficial hosts. In glitter, gowns and makeup, they greet ticket holders and pose for pictures with them.

"I look forward to Spotlight every year," says Palmer, who founded the Bag Ladies over 30 years ago to raise money to combat HIV and AIDS.

Still, Spotlight's cast keeps looking forward to the day when the event isn't necessary. But if a cure for is discovered, it could benefit another cause, says Palmer.

"I think it will always be there, whether it's raising money for AIDS or cancer," he says. "It's such a phenomenal arts (event). It spotlights the Indiana stage and music and dance. There's not one night you can go and be so overwhelmed."

For Murray, it's a night that allows him to quietly channel his talents toward his personal battle -- one that makes him appreciate being alive.

"I think for me what keeps me going is that I can keep going, and I think of all the friends of mine that their lives were cut short," says Murray. "I think I try harder now just to be really conscientious. I just think that's important and I think you realize the value of human life."

Meanwhile, Spotlight celebrates it.


If you go:

What: Spotlight

When: 8 p.m. May 19 (VIP reception will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.)

Where: Clowes Memorial Hall

What: Spotlight is an annual variety show that features Central Indiana's performing arts organizations and raises money for the Indiana AIDS fund.

Tickets: $50 and $25 for the performance only; $150 VIP ticket includes the VIP reception. Available at ticketmaster.com and the Clowes box office, 4602 Sunset Ave., Indianapolis.

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