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‘Heart Strings’ Offers Tears and Testimony of ‘Living With AIDS’

June 5, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ A constellation of stars and a galaxy of singers gathered for an emotional evening of testimony and tears to press the message that AIDS must be conquered.

″Heart Strings: An Event in Three Acts″ combined elements of Broadway revues and musicals along with the stark statistics that define the ravages of AIDS. Molly Ringwald, Judy Peabody, Estelle Getty and Harvey Fierstein alternated as narrators of Wednesday night’s fund-raiser at the City Center Theater.

The evening’s theme was that people should mobilize and take action against the disease - be it volunteerism or political activism or just bringing soup to someone afflicted with AIDS. Performers and speakers also stressed that AIDS sufferers want to be known as those who are living with the disease and not dying from it.

During one segment, an ensemble of dancers recited various facts about acquired immune deficiency syndrome, such as the number of people who have died from it and are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, all the while shouting the refrain: ″Get on your feet.″

Heart Strings’ name became apropos during another segment in which excerpts were read of letters and journals kept by AIDS sufferers. One vignette was about parents who disowned their gay son and refused to comfort him as he died from AIDS; another concerned a man who could not bear to accept help from his friends while he withered with the disease.

″It doesn’t pay to wear eye makeup,″ Fierstein told the audience after, many of whom were quietly sobbing.

But the evening remained upbeat, sort of an ″Up With People″ dedicated to the AIDS cause. It featured the group Salt n’ Pepa’s ″Let’s Talk About AIDS,″ the remake of their hit ″Let’s Talk About Sex″ and some 130 gospel singers from across the city and over 100 singers from the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

There was also a comical skit put to the music of Cole Porter in which three women dressed up as Trojan soldiers implored the audience to ″put a sheath on your sword ... before you take the plunge.″

Heart Strings, sponsored by the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS and the Names Project Foundation, has been on national tour since February. Organizers say it has raised $4 million, including $500,000 from the New York show. It travels next to Princeton, N.J., Columbus, Ohio, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Palm Beach, Fla., Miami, Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta.

The project is also showing the AIDS quilt, also called the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. A section of the quilt, about 1,000 panels of 3 by 6 feet (the size of a human grave, Heart Strings performers point out) will be unvieled Friday at the World Financial Center. The entire quilt will displayed in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9.

HIV is transmitted chiefly through sexual intercourse, shared intravenous drug needles, tainted blood products and from mothers to their unborn children. As of March 31, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has recorded 218,301 AIDS cases in the United States, including 141,233 deaths.

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