"Merce, is about a middle aged, HIV+ guy living in NYC, and it's a musical comedy! And here's the subversive part: it's not sad and no one dies.
As an HIV+ man, I've been starving for a story about HIV that isn't sad. The show is bright, colorful, campy and fun. Each episode is less than 10 minutes long, and each has an original musical number. The goal of the show is to present a fresh idea of what a person with HIV looks like, and to add some humor into the conversation about HIV. After all, Life can be positive, even when you're positive!"
Bob Leahy. Hi Charles. Why don't you describe the show for PositiveLite.com readers?
Charles Sanchez: Well it’s a bawdy, naughty funny musical comedy about an HIV-positive middle-aged guy living in New York City and his crazy life.
To what extent is it based on your own poz experience? It’s interesting, for example, how you include experiences which any gay positive man can relate to. For example you talk about disclosing your status to a date you really like and then getting rejected; in episode two you see your HIV doctor and have a crush on him. There are familiar things throughout.
Somewhat. I used a lot of my own experiences in the story line for sure. For instance the episode where the date says he has cancer which prompts Merce to tell him he has HIV and gets cut off – that actually happened to me. And a similar thing happened with the gym scene. I’ve spent my whole life fighting the fat. But I wanted the audience to know early on in the season that Merce was healthy.
So it’s rooted in reality. You have been poz for how long?
You’re doing well?
So you’ve depicted someone who is well and living with HIV but not too obsessed with HIV - but it crops up.
Right. I didn’t want him to be defined by his HIV status.
Merce is looking for love. Are you partnered yourself?
I’m single and dating and looking . . . so if you guys are ready (laughs). But luckily I haven’t had too many experiences recently where people have had a problem with my HIV status. I’ve been very fortunate that way. But also I’m very vocal about HIV. I don’t hide it or anything like that. Makes it easier.
Let me ask you about the style of the show and what your influences are? I think I see some Mary Tyler Moore in here for example.
We certainly did think of it as like an old-fashioned comedy show – Bewitched, we thought a lot about. We also wanted to make it look like a musical, very bright, and have a lot of rainbow colours so our art director really ran with that. Everything was colourful, from the music to the people that we cast,
It comes together well. I’ve just been binge watching on it and I was kind of sceptical at first but it won me over very quickly. I would say it’s hard for anyone not to like.
Well that’s lovely to say.
Somebody said, I think it was Mark S. King, it was like low budget early John Waters. Is that a compliment? I guess it is.
Yes, I would say so, (laughs)
It’s actually pretty slick though and well filmed. You started off in your film-making career I gather using a Flip camera and then an iPad. Are you using professional video equipment now?
Yes we did two seasons of Manhattan Man-Travels on an iPad and didn’t spend any money at all. But then we raised money, we went on indiegogo and raised $17,000. I went back to the drawing board on the story line, then we hired a director of photography, a composer, and a whole crew and over 20 actors – so we have all professional artists working on the project now.
So far there are six episodes available on the web series right now; how many in the series eventually?
And it’s a web TV series. What are your hopes? What is the next logical step?
I’m not quite sure. I would love it if a network would pick it up. That would be fantastic but we are talking now about Season Two and how much money we would need to raise to make that happen but our dream is that maybe someone else will pay for it.
I hope that dream comes true. Now you’re clearly a big musical fan – there is a music number in each episode and I’m curious about your influences. What’s your favourite Broadway musical?
I have so many, because I’m a big musical fan. My favourite vintage one is The Most Happy Fella. My favourite one from the last ten years is Avenue Q. I thought that show was hilarious
You have a favourite movie musical?
Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
Favourite TV show?
That’s hard. I’m a big TV fan. I’m a big Law and Order fan anytime. I also really like Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, those shows from the 70s I really love. I Dream of Jeannie, Maude, All in the Family. They had a big influence on me. They were so honest, smart and funny.
You favourite AIDS movie?
The one that surprised me the most that was recent was the Dallas Buyers Club. I went in expecting not to like it and I thought it was beautiful.
What did you think of The Normal Heart?
It was like a Valentine. The HBO movie amazed me for how many celebrities they got to be in it, which shows what an important story it was – and how relevant it still is.
Do you have any poz heroes?
First of all I think that anybody with HIV is a hero. It seems such a strange time to be poz – either dealing with the fear of 20 or 30 years ago or the fear of the unknown. But I think of people like Mark King and Shawn Decker who have become friends, Jack Mackenroth, - anybody who had been brave enough to step out in to the limelight and say “I’ve got HIV” and not shy away from it. I think a lot of people are ashamed of how they got HIV and I realized my own shame was very real. And then I realized I got HIV from making really human choices. And once I realized that I was able to have a little bit of forgiveness and compassion for myself. And then I realized I have a big mouth and I might as well be the guy who says ”hey I have HIV” (laughs)
So in Merce are you making any kind of political statement or is it strictly for fun.
Well, we didn’t set out to make a political statement. That was not our goal. Our goal was to be funny. But it has become somewhat of a political statement and I don’t mind that. I don’t mind it being a little bit subversive, to show that there is a side of HIV that says you can be joyous, you can live a full life and still be a person who is poz.
To watch Merce go to the Merce TV website here.