I don't have children. I don't have a pet. I do, however, have a baby.
My web series, Merce, a musical comedy about a gay, middle-aged New Yorker living with HIV, is my little precious sparkly darling. I conceived, wrote, co-produced, and star in the fabulous show, and Season 2 is scheduled to launch early next year. I started working on the first season of the show, along with my producing partner Tyne Firmin, about five years ago.
The original idea for the series came from my desire to see a portrayal of someone living with HIV who wasn't sad, sick, or dying. Every time I saw (and mostly still see) a movie or television show or play that includes a character living with HIV, it's tragic. Either it's a history lesson about the AIDS crisis of the '80s and '90s, or if it's a modern story, HIV is portrayed as a heartbreaking and shameful flaw in a character. To oppose this, I wrote scripts to create a campy, candy-colored world for Merce. This world includes a loving support system: Merce's slutty roommate Corvette; his sassy, southern Mama (played in drag by Tyne); and three Fairies -- Merce's Pips, if you will, who back him up as he sings and dances through some of the events in his life. To further emphasize the point, I came up with the tag line, "Life can be positive when you're positive." I'm very proud of that first season, and we even won a few awards at festivals.
When the time came to think about a second season, I wasn't sure. Producing an independent creative project is a Herculean effort, and I didn't know if I was up for another run. In addition, Season 1 of Merce didn't gain the sizable audience that we'd hoped for, so what was the point?
Also, I was disappointed that I didn't get a boyfriend out of it. Seriously, I'd fantasized that Daddy Charming would see the series, be incredibly impressed, and fall hard for me. He'd ride up on his Harley, I'd saddle in behind him, and we'd cycle off into the sunset, like a big, gay Hallmark romance movie. That didn't happen.
Tyne and I huddled and mulled the idea of a second season around. We decided to put on our big girl panties, take the risk, and do it all again.
For the second season, we vowed to go further, be bolder, funnier, bawdier. I wrote storylines that include secondary conditions to HIV, living HIV undetectable, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), gay marriage, slut shaming, and being true to yourself. One of the most important storylines was to create a sexy, romantic relationship for Merce. I wanted him to be in a serodiscordant relationship where fear of HIV transmission was not even mentioned. The HIV-negative character of Remington (who was introduced in Season 1 and played by the dreamy Randall Taylor) was brought back to fill the role. I decided, too, that there needed to be a tender moment for the couple: a genuine, authentic love song. And I wanted it to include the idea of a cure for HIV.
In the middle of the chaos of pre-production -- auditioning actors, hiring the creative team, scouting locations, starting to rehearse -- I tasked our composer-lyricist, the dear Adam J. Rineer, with writing the love song. In the scene, Merce has just had hip-replacement surgery, caused by avascular necrosis. Merce is in a vulnerable place, and Remington comforts him by saying how he wishes Merce didn't have to go through this, that he hadn't developed the necrosis in the first place, and mostly, that there was a cure for HIV. The song would be the heart of the season, and I was a bit worried that young Adam might not be up to the challenge.
On a hot summer day in 2017, I was in the reception area of my doctor's office, waiting to be called in for my quarterly blood work, when I received the demo of the song from Adam in an email. I fumbled as I nervously popped in my earbuds to listen to the track on my phone. The first chord played, and what followed was simple, poetic, and lovely, with a soupçon of '90s power ballad. Adam had written an expressive duet, where the couple vows to support each other through anything, promising that no matter what, "my love will be your cure." As I listened to Adam sing the last notes of the song, I found myself choking up with tears. It was perfect.
Scene from Merce, Season 2: Remington (Randall Taylor) comforts Merce (Charles Sanchez) as they sing "Your Cure" by Adam J. Rineer.
Fast forward to today. After writing scripts, collaborating with composers, and fundraising (a soul-killing task); after bringing together over 30 amazing actors, filmmaking professionals, musicians, and other creative artists who make up the company of Merce, Season 2; after filming the season of eight episodes over a whirlwind 10 days in the fall of 2017; after more than two years in post-production, working with remarkable editors, animators, musical scorers, and sound engineers to make sure the series is as shiny and snazzy as possible, the show is just about ready.
Merce, Season 2 will launch in January 2020, and I'm nervously excited. In anticipation of the launch, Tyne and I decided to release a few songs as teasers. "Your Cure" is especially appropriate to release in time for World AIDS Day. There's something about the song that is both nostalgic for the past while at the same time being hopeful for the future. The message of the song also speaks to our community in a larger way, for, as schmaltzy as it sounds, love is the cure for many of our troubles.
And who knows? Maybe my Daddy Charming is waiting for Season 2.