Darren Carnall

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Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

Assisi, Italy

Photo by Snooty Fox Photography
At last, I made it! Ever since I chose St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) to be my patron saint for confirmation, I have longed to be in the land where he lived. Okay, so I’m a fallen Catholic girl, but the sage teachings of St. Francis continue to live within me: “True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice”; “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

And the beloved, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love…” He’s also the one who coined the terms “Sister Moon,” “Brother Sun,” and “Mother Earth.” This egoless chap gave up his riches to walk around in shabby robes; and to announce his new way of life, Francis shed his designer threads and got naked in the public square! I wish I had been there to see that….

St. Francis also said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” And as you know, this gal gravitates to those who give, like my dear British friend, Darren Carnall, who’s accompanied me on this journey through Assisi. In 2010 he created West End Bares which is the U.K.’s branch of Broadway Bares. Singer, dancer, choreographer, and actor, Darren recently appeared in the original cast of Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre. Other stage credits include Merrily We Roll Along, Cats, La Cage Aux Folles, and Debbie Does Dallas. As for television and film, he’s appeared in Scenes of a Sexual Nature and Miss Marple: Sleeping Murder. Currently Darren is dance captain with Ghost: The Musical, which is playing in London’s West End.

Darren and I are now standing in the radiant Bascilica Di San Francesco, the church that was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1997. Thankfully, they have

A view from one of the rooms at NUN
pieced it back together and the body of St. Francis still rests under the church. Afterward we stroll through this captivating town near the Apennines and pass several nuns. As a child, Ms. Ruby wanted to be a nun. But then she grew up and her wicked ways nixed that idea. So what’s more appropriate for her than to stay at an old abbey that’s been turned into an intimate, charming hotel called…NUN?! This place is so steeped in history. It used to be the monastery of Saint Catherine (constructed in 1275) for Benedictine nuns that was built on the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and the Perlasio springs.

Simplicity and lightness are two words that describe NUN. They’ve maintained the reverence and tranquility of this medieval convent. Frescoes, niches, and cross-vaulted ceilings dominate the eighteen elegant, contemporary rooms.

Spending the entire day retracing St. Francis’s footsteps, we’re pooped. We want to purify ourselves, just like the Holy One did, so we strip down and don the hotel’s snow-white fluffy robes and head to the NUN Spa Museum. The spa was so named because archaeological finds were discovered during the building of the nunnery and the NUN keep them intact.

Ruby Comer: Oh, Darren, what a remarkable…enchanting place, huh?! It’s like going into an archaic cave. Gee, old Roman stones and pillars mixed with thermal baths and even wellness treatments. Listen, it’s all quiet…and mysterious. C’mon, let’s jump into the pool and get under one of those jet sprays, boy!
Darren Carnall:
Okay!

[Afterward, we soothe ourselves in another area of the sizeable pool, sitting on rippling waters that flow over our bodies.] The AIDS epidemic has been around many years. What comes to mind when you think about it?
Suffering. I know that these days we are very lucky in that treatments have advanced to a stage where many people with HIV/AIDS can live with the disease, but there is still a stigma attached to it, which gives people an overwhelming feeling of pain and suffering. We have to continue on “in the fight” to find a cure, but also to change the image of the disease.

Totally. I can’t remember, Darren, have you lost anyone to the disease?
I’m so lucky, babe, in that it hasn’t affected any of my close friends. But of course I work in a business where many people have stories of how the disease affected many friends of theirs at the height of the outbreak.

Yep, I was there, kid. Do you remember how you first heard about HIV/AIDS?
I believe it was the iconic television ad with the gravestone falling on it. I was a young child and so obviously didn’t understand fully what it was about, but I remember thinking it was a very scary, serious thing you could catch.

Gee, what ad was that?

Darren Carnell performing at West End Bares. Photo courtesy Darren Carnall
There was an ad here in the U.K. that had a gravestone with the word “AIDS” written on it and it collapsed to the ground, implying that if you got AIDS you were as good as dead. It was the first ad of its kind.

That is alarming. Say, how did West End Bares come about?
Well, as you know, Ruby, the Broadway choreographer and director, Jerry Mitchell, created Broadway Bares twenty years ago. He was in a Broadway show at the time of the outbreak and couldn’t afford to attend the benefits that were fundraising at the time, so he decided to do something himself. He organized a night of performers stripping to raise cash. Broadway Bares was born and since then has raised millions of dollars! I then worked with Jerry on Legally Blonde and was pestering him to bring Bares over here so that we Brits could (a) join in the fun and (b) raise money for HIV/AIDS sufferers over here in the U.K. He said if I wanted it to happen then I should organize it—and so I did. [I shoot him a gigantic gracious grin.] I care because people need help, at times, in their lives. Sometimes you just can’t make it on your own and there’s no better feeling than doing something for someone else.

Volunteering can be the best remedy for depression and anxiety. I know you also donate monthly to the Terrence Higgins Trust….
Yes, it’s a simple way to donate by direct debit. To be honest, you don’t even notice the money going but it’s good to know that you’re helping in some small way.

What a sensation these ancient waters have! I feel drunk with calmness. Have you ever dated anyone who was HIV-positive, Darren?
No I haven’t. I don’t think it would be much of a challenge though, but of course it would require some understanding. If you meet someone and fall in love, the fact they have a disease doesn’t matter. Love doesn’t care about disease.

Now tell your dearest friend Ruby the truth; we are in a place of sanctity ya know. [I giggle.] Have you always used a condom while playing?
I have, babe. There is just no point in taking that risk. It’s really that simple.

Smart guy. I know you and Mike have been in a relationship now for about a year or so, do you guys get tested regularly?

NUN Spa Museum. Photo by Paolo Tosti

[He shakes his wet head.] Yes, a year—wow, that’s gone fast! Michael is wonderful, and, yes, we do get tested regularly.

You two set an example, mio amico.
You do…
Thanks, Ruby. [He gets up and starts to get out of the pool.] Let me add something here. You know, the facts about HIV/AIDS are out there for everyone to read: the ways not to contract it and, if you live with it, the ways to contact people to help you. It’s awareness—that’s all—being careful and taking care of the life you have been given….

West End Bares will take place in London on Sunday, September 2, 2012. For more information go to www.madtrust.org.uk.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]

February 2012