Imagine a one-hour intimate, interactive, and inspiring one-man show with subtle humor, lessons in both art and LGBT-history, and a glimpse into the life of a progressive gay artist who embraced his HIV/AIDS diagnosis with love and opportunity to touch the lives of many.

That’s what you experienced if you attended Jeff Norton’s Keith Haring: Radiant Child at the Catherine Hickman Theatre in Gulfport, FL on Thursday evening.

Keith Haring
Chad Jacobs (Keith Haring) shares an Andy Warhol story. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

Born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Haring moved to New York City in 1978 and began using city subway station advertising cover-ups as his chalk canvas (similar to the one depicted in the image above). Haring drew on tens of thousands of canvases during his short life.

His art was eventually seen on public murals and in museums, galleries, and nightclubs throughout the world.

Keith Haring
Chad Jacobs (Keith Haring) interacts with audience members during the evening performance. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

When his works of art were stripped from subways and sold for thousands, he opened a store in NYC to sell printed t-shirts and Haring paraphernalia at reasonable prices. His goal was to make art affordable and easily accessible to everyone.

Haring, who was diagnosed with AIDS in his late twenties, also became known for his activism and promotion of AIDS awareness. He wasn’t afraid to speak about sensitive and seemingly taboo subjects, knowing that the community needed to hear messages of safety and prevention.

Haring died in 1990, at age 31, due to complications with AIDS.

St. Petersburg actor and illustrator Chad Jacobs effectively portrayed Keith Haring in both looks and personality. Jacobs currently works for Feld Entertainment and has performed with Studio Shakespeare in a number of plays.

During the performance, Jacobs’ character had to both draw and read lines simultaneously. When asked how he handled the challenge, he said, “I practiced several times prior to the show. There were times when I looked at what I had drawn and thought, ‘what is that?’ But you have to go with it, knowing that the audience is waiting for that next line.”

Keith Haring
A Keith Harding Lithograph was auctioned during the opening reception. (Image by Rachel Stevenson)

Jacobs also memorized a monolog over an hour long – an intimidating feat for most. According to Jacobs, he memorized the script in three weeks.

Audience members received Keith Haring pins.

“I actually recorded myself reading the show and then I broke it down into paragraphs. I would listen to the paragraph of me saying the lines and then I would say the lines along with the recorded version of me saying the lines. Then I would get to the point where I could say the lines by myself without the recording and then I would just string everything together.”

The highlight of the evening was when Jacobs handed out Haring pins to audience members, then played music and asked audience members to join him in dancing.

The show was presented by the Gulfport Public Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center. A portion of event proceeds benefited the Metro Wellness Center, as well as HIV/AIDS programs at Metropolitan Charities of Pinellas.

To learn more about the LGBTQ Resource Center and upcoming events, click here.