Michael Yawney assumed "bugchasing" was just a gay myth, like a Village People reunion tour or bathroom sex at "Homo" Depot. A 2003 Rolling Stone article about the phenomenon was marred by faulty reporting, and besides, people would not actually seek to contract HIV, would they? "Gift" parties, where HIV-negative men are set up with positive men for unprotected sex, couldn't possibly really happen, nor could there be a highly exclusive network that sends out cards inviting "newbies" to "get poz'd up."
For the past year and a half, the two — dramaturge and director — have been researching the world of bugchasing for their new show, The Bugchasers. And though they say they've interviewed several bugchasers and firmly attest to their existence, Campos and Yawney decided against composing a realistic narrative with a Shakespearean dramatic arc and after-school-special finger-wagging.
"I'm Cuban," says Campos, "so I have a cynical sense of humor. Though the show is about death, I want you laughing the whole time."
Thus the bearded lady, the music by Barry White and Nancy Sinatra, and the video — a beautiful video — of snails fucking. Campos originally planned to hire sex workers in order to show actual intercourse onstage because, he says, "It's Miami, so whatever." But as he got deeper into his research, he changed his mind. He learned about a range of HIV seekers, including some whose stated goal was a free apartment through HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) or $600 from Calle Ocho clinics whose funding partially rests on how many HIV-positive men they see (never mind treat). Campos even heard about an elderly woman who tried to contract the virus so Medicaid might cover the drug costs that Medicare wouldn't.
Campos latched onto the idea of a loose narrative of lost innocence told in a multimedia collage of movement and short scenes, a form that could communicate the disconnectedness experienced by young gay men. However pervasive bugchasing really is, Campos views it as symbolic of a larger disaffection in a culture of fear and digital communication.
"A lot of gay men are sick and tired of being afraid of having sex," he says, and the AIDS community offers a ready-made support system that's financially, emotionally, and socially appealing. In the face of death, the fear of being left alone is much more frightening. "Basically it's a piece about people who do stupid things in order to fit in," he says.
What theme could be more representative of Miami than that?