The More You Can Ho!
The Creative Team Behind Merce Bring Their Vivacious Brand of Sex Positivity to a New HIV Campaign
by Dann Dulin
SkippingBoyz Productions, creators of the award-winning HIV musical comedy web series, Merce, has announced the launch of a new HIV education campaign, “The More You Can Ho!” Modeled on the “The More You Know” TV spots popular in the nineties, this fresh series of public service announcements designed for social media educates about HIV issues using comedy. The videos, featuring characters from Merce, about a middle-aged man living with HIV in New York City, were released on YouTube February 16–23, 2021, with one video released every day leading up to a new music video with a “We Are the World”-type song by Jonathan Larson Grant recipient and MAC Award winning composer/lyricist Joel B. New.
The thirty-sixty second PSA videos talk about everything HIV: testing, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), U =U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable), and more, all with a wink, a lick of the lips, and a knowing smile. The videos are designed to be freely shared and utilized by individuals and organizations to spread HIV awareness.
Since the “The More You Can Ho!” campaign rolled out, the videos have been viewed hundreds of times on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and have garnered many positive comments, likes and shares. The first Merce post about U=U was even retweeted by a German HIV service organization, Deutche Aidshlife, saying, “Merce is spreading the relieving fact that HIV cannot be transmitted under therapy. This one is adorable! Or marvelous, like Merce and the good news itself.” The campaign has been written up on BroadwayWorld.com and MyFabulousDisease.com, among other sites.
Co-founder of SkippingBoyz Productions, Charles Sanchez [A&U, January 2020], is a gay Mexican-American writer, performer, director and activist living with HIV in New York City. He conceived, writes and stars in Merce, which was named Best HIV/AIDS Content at America’s Rainbow Film Festival in 2016. The series also won the Audience Award for Short Film at the 2017 Kaleidoscope Film Festival.
“Our big mission at SkippingBoyz,” says Sanchez, “is to change what people think of when they think of HIV. I want people to be less skittish about conversations regarding HIV and sexual health. I mean, it’s just penises, vaginas and butts for crissakes.”
Sanchez grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and started his artistic life as a member of the Phoenix Boys Choir. He toured Europe, Canada, and the U.S. with the choir, and even sang for President Carter. At nineteen, he moved to New York City to study performance at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. His acting career has taken him from Lincoln Center, Off-Broadway to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. As a director, he has staged plays and cabarets in New York, Los Angeles, and regional theatres.
Sanchez has been an activist since 2003, after waking up in the hospital to find out that he’d been in a three-week drug induced coma, due to advanced HIV/AIDS. He has attended the national AIDSWatch conference in Washington, D.C., four times, and has been featured in public service videos for the CDC’s “Start Talking. Stop HIV” campaign, as well as for Remedy Health Media and EverydayHealth.com. He was a member of the HIV Divide Flash Collective led by artist Avram Finklestein [A&U, June 2019] and writer/activist Mark S. King [A&U, March 2018], which created messaging and imagery around the viral divide between HIV positive and negative gay men.
He was also chosen to be a Social Media Fellow at the U.S. Conference on AIDS (now U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS) in 2016, sponsored by NMAC. Sanchez has been a Contributing Editor for TheBody.com since 2017, and has had essays published on PositivelyAware.com, Them.us and HuffPost Queer Voices. Sanchez has received many nominations at several festivals for his writing of and acting in Merce, and was named Best Actor in a Webisode at The 2016 Official Latino Short Film Festival. He was included in Healthline.com’s list of HIV Honors: The Most Influential Voices of 2017, and was honored in POZ Magazine’s 2018 POZ 100, celebrating people over 50 making a difference in the fight against HIV and the stigma surrounding it. In the spring of 2020, he began hosting a weekly live interview show on Instagram for TheBody, called “At Home With”, featuring prominent members of the HIV and LGBTQ+ community.
Tyne Firmin is a co-founder of SkippingBoyz Productions, and the director, producer and actor in the web series, Merce. He’s also co-director/co-producer of The More You Can Ho! campaign. Firmin has worked as a professional actor, director, producer, and educator. For his role as Mama in Merce, Firmin was honored with a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the NYC WebFest in 2016.
“The concept of the campaign,” says Firmin, “is to show that the more you know about HIV, your status, and prevention methods, the more you can go out and have a good time!”
The creative company for the project also includes Director of Photography Linus Ignatius, the editing team at KO Creative, Emmy Award-winning Composer/Musical Director and Editor Brian Lydell, the acting talents of Amanda Bruton, Bess Eckstein, Anlami Shaw, Randall Taylor and a cast of amazing New York singer-actors. Alongside Merce cast members are prominent HIV advocates Bruce Richman (founder and executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign), Mark S. King (2020 GLAAD Award winner, 2020 LGBTQ Association Journalist of the Year), Jahlove Serrano (HIV activist and health educator), and Damon L. Jacobs (nationally known PrEP advocate). New York artist Scott Lilly created the “Ho” logo.
The video project is funded by a grant from the HealthVoices Impact Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey. This fund was established by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
Here’s to all you skipping Ho’s!
Watch the PSAs on Youtube. Start here: https://bit.ly/37IUWcT.
Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U.