The musical production of Rent — about struggling in the shadow of HIV/AIDS — has gone where an actual person with the virus cannot: the Australian Defence Force Academy.
The military’s peak academy for officer training began its most controversial production late last month after being selected earlier this year by the officer cadets and midshipmen.
The ADF, and by extension its academy, has a ban on admitting people with a blood-borne virus like HIV. The consequence of contracting HIV while in the institution would be discharge and losing academic standing.
The creative outlet, rehearsed and performed outside academic and military study hours, is an exemption to the rules preventing students from commenting on Defence Force policy. In past years, potential productions like Miss Saigon have been strongly discouraged to avoid controversy.
The director, Officer Cadet Joshua Kam, used the school edition of the Jonathan Larson musical and kept the gay bashing and same-sex scenes. He said he was a long-time fan of Rent, both for its strong songs and storyline.
“When you think of the Australian Defence Force Academy, you think of a military and academic institution, and of people dressed in camouflage uniforms running around the bush,” he said. “Instead we have midshipmen and officer cadets gliding on stage singing, acting and dancing.”
The cast were volunteers from all faculties of the academy. Most will go on to serve in technical and leadership positions far from the frontline where blood risks would be a factor.
The Australian Defence Force currently has one member with HIV that it is aware of, a reservist. A spokesman said a member diagnosed with the virus after the recruitment-stage ban would be given appropriate clinical treatment.
“Anyone who is an infectious risk to others is considered to be non-deployable. Each service then determines whether the individual is offered the opportunity to continue serving in the Defence Force,” the spokesman said.
“This is based on a risk assessment weighing up the health status of the individual, their ability to do their job and the service’s need for their particular skills.”

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