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Meet Shari Caplan of AIDS Action Committee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shari Caplan.

Shari, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
As an actress and poet, multi-disciplinary is my M.O. I embrace the adaptability required to pursue what I love while working a full-time job that contributes to the betterment of the world.

My approach to life, to work, and to creative endeavors is informed by my upbringing. I come from a family of artists and community builders. I grew up in a Victorian house in Jamaica Plain, where everyone was welcome; Vietnamese refugees, Mexican immigrants, a homeless teenager, a family friend and her toddler all lived with us during different periods of time. My parents took me to Shakespeare plays, African drum performances, Sufi and Buddhist and Native tribe retreats. My mom’s painting of water-lilies hung by the stairs. My grandpa gave me clay to shape in his studio.

I fell in love with creating events when I coordinated the “Poetry Trolleys” for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in 2011. I went on to produce cross-pollinations of poetry and other art forms for the festival, including the Poetry Circus, the Fairy Tale Poetry Walking Tour, and the Poetry Bordello. I am interested in taking poetry out of its dark, quiet corner, dressing it in sequins and shaking its tail-feathers in front of the public. Poetry can be fun! Poetry is for everyone! Making poetry accessible to all (which is not to say watered-down) is one of my lifelong goals. Art is a way of communicating to ourselves and to others. I believe in art and imagination for ALL and with purpose.

In terms of my own creative practice, I am currently exploring the connections between performance and poetry. Through my work, I have earned a scholarship to The Home School in Hudson, a fellowship to The Vermont Studio Center, and nominations for a Rhylsing Award, a Bettering American Poetry Award, and a Pushcart Prize. I am the siren behind “Advice from a Siren, “published by Dancing Girl Press in 2016. My poems have swum into Gulf Coast, Blue Lyra Review, Deluge, Drunk Monkeys, Non-binary Review, and more.

I am also a stage actor with credits at Boston area theaters, including a world premiere (Tara Brooke’s “Or, Dreaming,” an immersive theater piece based on August Strindberg’s “Dream Play”). Recent roles include Catherine Giving’s in “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” (The Footlight Club), Theresa in “Circle Mirror Transformation,” (Hovey Players) and Shelby in “Steel Magnolias,” (East Boston Playhouse). I am trained in the Stanislavsky method, in developmental movement, Laban techniques, and clowning. My approach to a character is equal parts movement-based and psychological. In my initial explorations into performative (not slam) poetry, I have produced and performed in “The Poetry Circus,” “The Fairy Tale Poetry Walking Tour,” and other cross-pollinations for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. From time to time, you may encounter me as “Betty BOOM, America’s Sweet-tart” giving intimate readings across the nation as part of The Poetry Society of New York’s “The Poetry Brothel.” I share my ability to straddle the line between reading and performance through workshops on how to give poetry readings and frequently host writing workshops, the latest as part of The Morning Garden Writer’s Retreat. The manuscript I am working on is relevant to the #MeToo movement and to #Time’sUp and has a foot in acting as well – it puts a spotlight on the manipulative aspects of Old Hollywood, the claustrophobia of beauty, contemporary stories of veiled misogyny and the myth making we all do as heroes of our own lives.

In my latest incarnation as the Development Officer at AIDS Action Committee, I am able to combine my passions for art and for change. My main project is ARTcetera, a biennial auction to benefit AIDS Action, and one of Boston’s best events for art discovery. My responsibilities in this role are motivating and electrifying; I am working towards a future without HIV/AIDS and bringing our mission to the center of Boston’s art scene.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Of course, every ambition has its obstacles. When doing what you love requires auditions and applications, it can be heart-breaking. In 2016, I committed myself to auditioning more rigorously than ever before – going out for every part I thought I could play. I received positive feedback, but wasn’t being cast in anything. During that time, I was also applying for jobs in development or special programs and hearing nothing back. It felt like I was sending out energy into a vacuum. I kept reminding myself of this Stephen Crane poem:

A man said to the universe
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe
“the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.”

I kept working, maintaining my own practice. After almost a full year of auditions, I landed a lead role, then another, then another – I ended up playing five lead roles back-to-back, the last of which I had been wanting to play for many years (Catherine Giving’s in Rebecca Miller’s production of “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play.”). During that time, I was also hired at AIDS Action as the Development Officer of Special Events. So maybe the universe does hear us! And whether it feels “obligated” or not, the only way to live is to pursue what you love passionately and authentically.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the AIDS Action Committee story. Tell us more about the business.
Founded in 1983, AIDS Action is New England’s largest AIDS service organization. For three decades, we’ve been advocating at all levels of government for fair and effective AIDS policies, conducting cutting edge HIV prevention programs, and providing health and wellness services to people living with HIV. As part of the Getting to Zero Coalition, an international effort, AIDS Action is committed to getting to zero HIV-related deaths, zero new infections, and zero stigma by 2030.

ARTcetera remains one of AIDS Action’s most vital fundraisers, bringing in over $700,000 to help us continue our work. This year, we’re excited to offer unique opportunities to connect with artists at our pop up events throughout the year, an auction collection including local and international talent, and exciting surprises at the auction itself. You can bet my passion for immersive, interdisciplinary events will inform this year’s ARTcetera!

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I certainly feel lucky to be working for AIDS Action on a spectacular art event! While I firmly believe that dedication and openness to what comes are the most vital elements to success, a combination of good timing, ambition, and an unlikely set of skills led to me finding my role as Development Officer here. My background in event planning, the arts, and coordinating auctions helped me land a job I love. I also have the good fortune to work with an exciting team of creative people to ensure ARTcetera’s success.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 75 Amory Street
  • Website: sharicaplan.com
  • Phone: 857-313-6735
  • Email: scaplan@fenwayhealth.org
  • Instagram: @artceteraboston
  • Facebook: @artceteraboston
  • Other: artcetera.org


Image Credit:
Caitlin Cunnigham
Matt McKee
JJ Lynne Photography
Creative Salem

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