Three or four times a week in the busy two months leading up to this week’s gala fashion show, the 40-member cast has gotten an e-blast from TAB Executive Director Wislocki.
They call them “Stash Facts” – a barrage of HIV/AIDS statistics intended to infuse this “Cirque du Soleil Meets the Catwalk” spectacle that takes place tonight and Saturday at the Telluride Conference Center with deeper meaning and purpose for its participants – and, by extension, the audience.
Facts like these:
• Every 16 seconds, someone on the planet dies of AIDS.
• 36 million people on the planet are HIV-positive right now.
• Every year, about 40,000 Americans learn they are infected with HIV.
All this despite the retroviral drugs, the safe sex lectures, the condom giveaways, the global education campaigns. In short, AIDS has never gone away.
Right here on the Western Slope of Colorado, a surprising number of people affected by the disease are currently taking advantage of TAB-supported programs, like the Grand Junction-based Western Colorado AIDS Project, or WestCAP, which began in 1985 as a grassroots effort in response to the needs of people dying from AIDS on the Western Slope. Demand for WestCAP’s services is actually growing; in 1997, it served fewer than 40 individuals; today, with a doubling of new clients in the last two years, it has delivered information to more than 3,000 individuals about everything from risk and prevention education to testing efforts to treatment options.
“The fashion show is our flagship event,” Wislocki reflected Friday, taking time out from last-minute preparations for a cup of coffee at the Butcher and Baker café; the most difficult part of the job, he said, is getting across “who we are.”
Even here, it was impossible to get away from the buzz leading up to the 19th TAB weekend, as a steady stream of text messages poured in from staff while we chatted.
Wislocki leaned back in his chair, casual and elegant, with a scarf wrapped around his neck, utterly unflustered by it all.
As festival producer for Telluride Mountainfilm and as executive director for TAB, Wislocki has two of the most fun yet most potentially most frazzling jobs in town. His background with the company Boston Light and Sound gave him technical production and rigging experience at high-profile events like the Sundance Film Festival, arguably laying the groundwork for his smooth-as-silk handling of TAB, which he’s headed up since 2009.
His very first year at the helm was a success, with $160,000 for AIDS nonprofits in Africa and Colorado raised.
Since then, there’s been no looking back.
“We’re just warming up” for next year, when TAB celebrates its 20th anniversary, Wislocki said, grinning, going on to describe behind-the-scenes work leading up to the spectacle that will unfold tonight and again Saturday at the Telluride Conference Center.
It takes three days just to hang all the lights. “It’s as big a lighting package as you’ll see anywhere; it’s what has made the show what it is,” he said. From the lighting designer to the production manager, all of the people involved in the show are professionals in their fields, and it shows, in a production that rivals anything New York or Paris can muster.
“We know how to do this,” Wislocki said, hinting at a “big surprise” on Saturday night, when representatives from TAB beneficiaries take the stage alongside the models during the show.
Music for the show itself must be prerecorded and synced to the loops of screen wash and motion graphics that will add a sophisticated context; crews from Bobbi Brown Cosmetics and hair stylist Mooney have converged on Telluride from New York and Los Angeles to do the models’ make-up and hair for this event that everybody wants to be a part of. DJ Kato is doing the music for the after-party.
This year, over 90 people auditioned for the show – about double the amount in previous years. “We had a tremendous talent pool to draw from,” Wislocki said. “There seemed to be more professionals – more people coming from the world of dance” – including some impressive male dancers, which is unusual, he said.
TAB Dance Choreographer Amanda Sturdevant and TAB Director Katy Parnello (who flies in from Brooklyn to do the show) have been working with the models six nights a week, in four-hour time blocks, since the beginning of February, logging a total of 5,000 individual hours of all-volunteer rehearsal time.
Fashion-world superstars from Catharine Malandrino to Autumn Teneyl, Elie Tahari, Kenneth Cole and Dolce & Gabbana have donated outfits or “looks,” ranging from haute couture to lingerie (to S&M, new this year). The Telluride-bred Horny Toad line of mountain-wear is a big supporter.
In spite of its worldly imports and at times blatantly kinky overtones, Wislocki emphasizes that the show has maintained a Telluride-centric feeling over the years, mostly because of the local pool from which the talent is drawn (models must live nearby to manage the intense rehearsal schedule).
“All of them have jobs and/or families,” he said of the TAB models – who insist, despite the rigorous demands on their time, that the annual event marks their favorite time of year.
Because TAB runs almost entirely on volunteer fuel (Wislocki, its only employee, is part-time), the bulk of its proceeds go straight to the cause.
“We make an incredible amount of money,” Wislocki said. Since its inception in 1994, TAB has donated over $1,750,000 toward HIV/AIDS education, advocacy and NGOs. In 2011 it gave over $100,000 to five HIV/AIDS charities in Colorado and Africa: Western Colorado AIDS Project, Denver Children's Hospital Immunodeficiency Program, Denver’s Brother Jeff's Community Health Initiative, the Ethiopian Family Fund, and the Manzini Youth Care Center in Manzini, Swaziland.
A big chunk of this money comes from fashion show ticket sales.
Ticket prices start at $40 for the Sneak Preview Fashion Show and soar up to $500 for premier tickets to the Saturday Gala (but that was back in early December, when tickets first went on-sale). Now, with both events long sold-out, Wislocki can name his price. “This is the only community I know where you can ask $5,000 for a ticket, for a cause,” he said.
It’s a far cry from the fashion show’s humble beginnings, with “looks” straight out of the Telluride Free Box that were strutted in a fashion parade up Colorado Ave., organized to help Telluride resident Robert Presley, a fashion designer battling AIDS, with his mounting medical bills.
Since its inception, generosity has prevailed, with Presley insisting, that very first year, that the $12,000 TAB raised should not go just to him, but to WestCAP.
On Tap at TAB
Sneak Peek Fashion Show – Thursday, March 1, Telluride Conference Center, doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m.
Art Auction – Friday, March 2, Sheridan Opera House, bidding starts at 12 p.m., cocktail party from 6-10 p.m., free entry
Gala Fashion Show – Saturday, March 3, Telluride Conference Center, doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m.
After Party – Saturday, March 3, The Llama, 10:30 p.m.
Trunk Sale – Monday, March 5, Sheridan Opera House, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free entry
Free HIV Testing – Year round in Telluride. Make an appointment with Telluride Family Practice, 970/728-6654, 35 W. Colorado Ave., # 2D