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Add News Story hereIt’s considered the “Special Period” in Cuba’s history: when the Soviet Union cut financial ties with Cuba. During the late 1980s under the socialist Castro regime, where there were significant drains on resources such as gas and food, outliers such as “punks” were targeted for abuse, and people who were HIV positive were quarantined in sanitariums.

The video program showed the history of fighting AIDS and HIV in Chicago and bringing awareness to non-LGBTQ communities with 30 years of media production by activists, journalists, artists and educators working against the disease. Ranging from video diaries to documentary footage and oral history lessons, the film pieced together individual work that focused on artistic influence from zines and comics and organized movements that propelled the fight against AIDS from various communities. It also included footage from ACT UP/Chicago campaigns and personal accounts from women living with AIDS and those involved in the world's longest-running clinical research study on women with HIV.

June 2018 - KT Hawbaker

It's Pride month, sinners, and with that comes a melange of rainbow-slathered everything. Yay, love! Yay, parades! As queerness becomes more marketable, however, it risks becoming more whitewashed. So! To keep the "homo" out of homogenization, we spoke with the city's queer and creative about the media that influenced them most as they were coming out—a reminder that there's no one right way to forge an identity.

October 2017 - Christopher Borrelli

Joseph Varisco, program manager at the gallery, said the Lending Library is a smart companion with the Alphawood’s latest show, “Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” (through mid-November). “Though to be honest,” he added, “what really drew me to it was that Aram didn’t intellectualize it. It’s artful and straightforward. The work the banners do is more important than any over-explaining of the preciousness of the art made. Aram — she comes from that kind of (rarified art) world, but she’s not clinging to theory, you know?”

June 2017 - Sami Emory

As Varisco points out, the Chicago artists increased representation in the show of artists and communities of color as well as intergenerational, non-binary, and trans artists. "Seeing through the lens of various Chicago neighborhoods in response to HIV/AIDS," he adds, "proves the unforgettable historical and cultural significance AIDS art has and continues to make on our communities."

Tempestt Hazel - March 2017

Then, Chicago showed up as only this city can through an ambitious lineup of programspresented by Alphawood Foundation, QUEER, ILL + OKAY, and a long list of partners in many corners of the city. The exhibition was pulled further into a present-day context through performances, talks, symposia, screenings, AIDS education events, tours, readings, and sister exhibitions—all of which helped to address the blindspots and blanks left exposed in the voids between works on gallery walls. It was in the programming where women, people of color, the Ls, the Bs, the Ts, the Qs and many others who are obscured from view were given microphones. 

January 2017 - Kevin Greene

Joseph Varisco has had a busy year. He worked on “The Fly Honey Show,” an annual body, sex and queer love cabaret; produced “Queer ILL + OK,” an annual performance series on mental illness, HIV and queerness; and sponsored the Chicago Queer Arts Mentorship Program, a support network for young LGBTQ artists that partners them with professionals already working in the field. See those “annuals”? No doubt Varisco’s 2017 will be just as productive as his 2016, if not more so.

December 2016 - Britt Julious

The show was first organized in response to Varisco's own HIV-positive diagnosis.

"I was trying to find art, literature, film and music that reflected my experience, something that I related to. I couldn't find that," Varisco said. "There's a lot of narratives I had encountered before that I just kind of saw repeated again and again."

Varisco said those experiences typically focused on white gay men living in New York or San Francisco during the late '80s and '90s. He wanted his project to reflect something different for his viewers. Namely, that the intersection of queerness and HIV status today is more complex and diverse than our typical understanding of the illness.

December 2016 - Joseph Varisco

There are a lot of important reasons why I do this work: to spread information, to create conversation, to increase visibility of the underrepresented and the underserved, to change and complicate the narrative. But mostly, more than anything else, I continue this work because I want to keep listening to my community share their stories so I might get a little closer to my own.

Recently I wondered how different my experience would have been if I had their voices to listen to after my diagnosis. I asked a few of these generous folk if they could write letters to themselves before they were diagnosed with HIV or experienced a change in their body’s mobility while living with the challenge of chronic illness. 

I asked them to speak to their younger selves and remember the moments of resilience, resistance, and healing that has changed their life—many times, and most surprisingly, for the better.  

December 2016 - Nico Lang

When he was diagnosed with HIV four years ago, Joseph Varisco struggled with talking about his status with friends and loved ones, some of whom still harbored stereotypes and misinformation about the disease.

October 2017

In LGBTQ community dance and performance circles, it’s hard not to know about the work of Joseph Varisco. Host of the ongoing Poonie’s Cabaret at Links Hall, Salonathon co-curator and currently working for the Alphawood Foundation’s “Art AIDS America” exhibition, Varisco and his company, JRV Majesty Productions, have labored tirelessly to advocate for LGBTQ visibility. The series [QUEER ILL + OKAY], by shining a spotlight and providing a platform for sharing these stories, helps create a support network that wouldn’t otherwise exist. 

Acting UP Award Winners

July 2016

Chicago Community Trust is excited to announce the 64 Acting UP Award Winners that will address diverse issues such as mental health, violence, education and employment.  Click on the links below to watch the short videos of the Acting UP winning projects.

June 2016 - Sona Jones

Chicago Ideas is saying goodbye to the old days of networking by designing unique experiences and conversations that lead to deeper, more meaningful dialogue and action within the city of Chicago. Our Co-op is aimed at doing just that. At our recent (Almost) Summer Soiree hosted at Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits in Logan Square, over 50 Chicago-based instigators came together to make connections, have substantive conversations and, of course, eat pie!

June 2016 - Kris Vire

From artists to activists, pamphleteers to politicians, Chicago’s LGBT community has played a significant role in shaping the city’s cultural life for nearly a century, dating back to the pre-Prohibition social clubs of Towertown (now River North) and the nation’s first documented gay rights organization, which was founded by Henry Gerber in 1924. As the city celebrates its 47th annual Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday June 26, meet eight LGBT Chicagoans influencing the city’s culture today—from veteran activists to up-and-coming artists.

December 2015 - Michael Workman

Top 5 Queer/Trans Dance Performances of 2015 “Poonie’s Cabaret: Post-Q Part II” at Links Hall Darling Squire at the SWOP Chicago Benefit Sofia Moreno, “Tropic Winter” at David Weinberg Joe Varisco, “Queer, Ill & Okay,” Storefront Theater Lyra Hill, “Moon Moods” at MCA Stage 

October 2015 - Whitney Hill

SPORK! had the opportunity to interview the performers from QUEER, ILL & OKAY. Check back soon for more cast videos!

Created by Joe Varisco, founder of Chicago's JRV Majesty Productions - QUEER, ILL, & OKAY is an annual collaborative series of activist, performers & writers retelling personal stories of being within the LGBTQA community, living with a chronic illness and being differently able. 

September 2015 - Conor Moynihan

“The goal [of QIO] is to continue to have new conversations expand what it means to talk about living with a chronic illness today,” producer/curator Varisco explained, “and entering more and more different perspectives as it continues to evolve.” Giroux’s work contributes to this goal, and broadens it by connecting the conversation to what it means to live and to die. Her work heals by opening and reconciling her audience through conversation, intervention, and empathy to the humanness and sanctity of finality.

August 2015 - Sean Margaret Wagner

The only thing that surpasses each of the 8 gripping performances are the exquisite performers. These personal stories explore the realities of what it's like to be both in the LGBTQA community and be Differently Abled.

"The space was teeming with a diverse audience, and even more diverse slate of storytellers, performance artists, lecturers, poets, dancers and designers...the resulting evening of honest, genre-spanning, and new work was a great testament to the crew’s behind-the-scenes investment."

July 2015 - Elijah McKinnon

his time last year, I sat across the table from Joseph Varisco as he introduced me to Queer, Ill & Okay  — a performance series that examines chronic illness in a new light. Located in a crowded café in Logan Square, the Chicago-based performance artist, producer, documentarian and teacher unpacked the intricate details that make up the multidisciplinary performance series. He hoped then that Queer, Ill, & Okay would become a lasting event in Chicago that is continually evolving.

June 2015 - Audra Wilson

From basketball legend Magic Johnson (living with HIV) to boxing great Muhammad Ali (Parkinson's disease), the face of people living with a chronic illness has changed significantly. Though the pendulum has swung dramatically on how we perceive people who live with chronic illnesses (most notably, HIV), it does not negate the challenges that people with chronic illness face. In this episode, we explore the challenge of living with the erratic, unpredictable nature of chronic illness, and how people living with such illnesses maintain their self-esteem.

July 2015 - Lauren Warnecke

Varisco sometimes escapes notice in the dance community because the focus of his projects is not purely dance. However, dancers are increasingly collaborating with theater and performance artists, spoken-word performers and musicians/sound artists, and the need and desire for a diverse range of voices from within the queer and gender non-conforming communities is putting Varisco on the map across disciplines.

Post Q is art. Performance art. Actually, it’s great performance art! But one must approach a performance like this knowing that it will be unfiltered, challenging, and you might not agree with everything. Communities of artists are not exactly democracies, but there’s room for everyone. That is never clearer than when attending Post Q.

February 2015 - Broadway World Chicago

The Inconvenience is very happy to announce a new Artistic Director, as well as it's recent hiring of Development andManaging Directors. After leading the company since it's inception, Chris Chemlik is handing the reigns of Artistic Director over to Founding Member Missi Davis, who has been serving as the Executive Director and Producer. Chris is still an active and integral member of The Inconvenience, and is excited for Missi to lead the company in a new direction both creatively and within the administration. The Inconvenience also welcomes Charlie Otto as the company's Managing Director, and Joe Varisco as the new Development Director.

September 2014 - Whitney Hill

SPORK! had the opportunity to sit down with Chicago’s Joe Varisco, creator of Queer, ILL, & OKAY - a series of explorative performances about what it is means to be queer, living with a chronic illness and being differently abled. 

Debuted at the Defibrillator Gallery, Summer of 2014.

September 2014 - Brian Solem

Through performance art, new narratives emerge about chronic illness.


After being diagnosed as HIV-positive two years ago, Chicago-based performance artist, multimedia producer, documentarian and teacher Joe Varisco felt an absence: Where are the narratives around HIV that reflected his story, the story and experiences of his communities and their lives?

In the months after his diagnosis, he immersed himself in media representations that told the story of life with HIV/AIDS, and while he appreciated those narratives for their historical values, they just weren’t coming close to reflecting living today with HIV.

August 2014 - Sean Margaret Wagner

When Joseph Varisco, the creator and emcee behind ‘Queer, Ill, and Okay‘ took the stage, he explained that this evening of LGBTQ and Illness focused night of performance art was brought about by his inability to feel connected to similar queer-focused Chicago performance. Appropriately, there were no strangers in the packed DfbrL8r Gallery, and anyone with the mistaken impression that they were not somehow connected to the action unfolding in front of them need only see our host Varisco to be tapped to operate a light fixture or hold a corner of a draping black silk.

July 2014 - H. Melt

Queer, Ill and Okay allowed artists the freedom to address their chronic illness in a way that was not tokenizing. It is easy to think of illness first and foremost in medical terms. Information typically associated with chronic health concerns such as diagnosis, symptoms, or treatments were not the focus here. The majority of performers did not even mention the name of their illness, but simply alluded to it.  Instead, the performers explored the emotional side effects of their illnesses, along with their changing relationships to family and community members.

July 2014 - Vern Hester

After being diagnosed with HIV two years ago, creative director and artist Joseph Varisco dealt with the news by doing what he loves most: He turned it into art. Starting as an experimental performance project at Links Hall and witnessing a tremendous triumph as a result, he developed the concept into "Queer, Ill, and Okay."

After six months of assembling, curating and working with a host of artists, "Queer, Ill, and Okay" kicked off a two-night stand at Defibrillator Performing Arts Gallery July 5 in front of an SRO audience of youthful LGBT individuals.

A show focused on illness—mental as well as physical—may sound morbid, but this show was really about coping, struggling, new determinations, and winning over dire circumstances with cheer and attitude. With Varisco moderating, the show was packed with spoken-word performance, music, minute observations, dance and a healthy helping of sincere humor.

June 2014 - Ester Alegria

You can find Joseph Varisco on any given Monday at Beauty Bar (1444 W. Chicago) hosting Salonathon LEXICA—vocabulary of the people—or sitting off to the side snapping his fingers in the air as some force of nature takes the floor and changes lives. Or perhaps standing behind the shimmery DJ booth as [X]P spins on the nights Varisco curates the show. Right now, though, Varisco’s putting the putting the finishing touches on his July 5th and 6th show, Queer, Ill, & Okay, two days of artists coming together to share their craft; exploring queerness and chronic illnesses such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, and mental illness; expressing stigma, hurt, mortality; and healing though creativity.

May 2014 - Theodore Kerr

Soon after learning he was living with HIV, artist and producer Joseph R. Variscostarted putting together the group performance, crowded-sourced show, Queer, Ill and Okay that explores the intersection of queerness, illness, and —if we may—okayness. As described in the marketing materials, Queer, Ill and Okay, is an "emerging experimental performance series exploring the intersections of queer identity and living with HIV and other forms of chronic illness, premiering July 5th & 6th at Defibrillator Performing Arts Gallery in Chicago's Wicker Park." In the interview below, JRV talks to Visual AIDS about how the show came to be, the slipperiness of the term "chronic illness" and the impact community has on his health. 

May 2014 - Hanno Stecher

“Queer, Ill, & Okay” is an experimental performance series started by Joseph Varisco, founder of the Chicago-based multimedia production collective JRV MAJESTY. The collective has done wonderful and impressive community work over the past 3 years by building platforms for queer artists to connect and express themselves through various forms of performance art. Check out their Vimeo account to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

May 2014 - Almah LaVon Rice

Meet Joseph R. Varisco. Also known as JRV MAJESTY. Which is fitting, since so much of his work is dedicated to coronating queer storytelling in all its pathos, pomp, and circumstance. He’s the queer HIV+ multimedia producer and historian behind the Queer Lexicon Oral History Project. He’s the founder of JRV MAJESTY Productions, the creative director of Chicago IRL, the curator of Salonathon: LEX•I•CA, and a teaching artist with About Face Youth Theatre, among the many other crowns he wears.


And he’s also the curator-creator of QUEER, ILL, & OKAY, a performance series featuring queer artists living with chronic illness.

April 2014 - Vern Hester

In partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's ( SAIC's ) Office of Diversity and JRV MAJESTY Productions, the school presented the first two of three workshop lectures on drag and burlesque on April 14 and 18 at the Leroy Neiman Center.

April 2014 - Chicago Ideas Week Ideasphere

Co-op member Joseph Varisco can connect much of his current work heading the production company JRV MAJESTY Productions—which works with LGBTQ artists—to personal experience.  Often, he said of his projects, “It’s about me trying to find answers.”


January 2014 - Art World Chicago

Strange Bedfellows is a nationally traveling exhibition and catalogue exploring collaborative practice in queer art making curated by Amy Cancelmo. The project is fiscally sponsored by the Queer Cultural Center and will be presented first at  Root Division, (San Francisco) as part of the National Queer Arts Festival in June of 2013. 
Works include local archivist, queer historian and producer Joseph Varisco of JRV MAJESTY Productions Queer Lexicon, an oral history series started in 2012 documenting the lives of Chicago’s queer luminaries and their varied works.

December 2013 - The Pollination Project

Joseph Varisco started the Queer Lexicon Oral History Project, an oral history series profiling Chicago’s emerging, innovative and visionary figures within the Trans Queer Intersex Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance (TQILGBA) and Gender Non-Conformming communities. Each 20-30 minute interview shares the subject’s professional pursuits, personal politics and intimate conversations on community. Joseph has developed significant relationships with many queer communities throughout Chicago, and has gained access to be able to target Chicago’s queer community as a major national hub for these conversations and cultural innovations.

September 2013 - Audra Wilson

On this installment of Practically Speaking, we talk to advocates among us. Host Audra Wilson talks with with Joe Varisco of JRV MAJESTY Productions about racism, ageism, and advocacy within the LGBTQ community. He has created a podcast, "Queer Lexicon" to help document the variety of voices within the LGBTQ community: both the struggles and the celebrations.

March 2013 - In Our Words

Queer Lexicon is a collection of interviews documenting the oral histories of creative individuals in Chicago’s LGBTQIA [& Gender Non-Conforming] communities. 

Queer Lexicon launched December 2012 with Queer Choir Director and Chances Dances Grant Board Member, Jackie Boyd. 2013 takes us further with renowned multi-disciplinary artist Kiam Marcelo Junio, SIRvival in the Second City: transqueer chicago poemsauthor H. Melt and avant-garde drag diva Shea Couleé. Interviews explore pressing issues facing queer community such as historical problems of segregation in Chicago, the vitality of recognizing intersectionality, survival and thriving in controversial queer economies, the collapse of NFP and academic institutions servicing Lesbian Gay  Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Allied & Gender Non-Conforming folk via intimate accounts of personal lives and creative works.

May 2013 - Tom Wray

Chicago has long been known as a city of stories. That reputation began with writers and commentators like Studs Terkel, but that same kind of oral history has been slow to grab hold in the city's LGBTQIA community—until now.

Joseph Varisco has been working on Queer Lexicon, a collection of interviews documenting the oral histories of creative individuals in the LGBTQIA communities. Varisco said the project started six months ago with KOKUMO, CEO of KOKUMOMEDIA Inc. and a musical artist. Other participants include AfroCubaRican performance artist Vajaqueque Brown, Uprising project performance director and educator Nicole Garneau, and international IMG model Darling Shear.

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