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Lifestyle; Laughter as Remedy to Ignorance on AIDS




 

LEAD: In an hour-and-a-half montage of music, comedy, audience participation and frank discussion, Suzi Landolphi has broached with thousands of college students across the nation two subjects that many people would rather not discuss in public - sex and AIDS.

In an hour-and-a-half montage of music, comedy, audience participation and frank discussion, Suzi Landolphi has broached with thousands of college students across the nation two subjects that many people would rather not discuss in public - sex and AIDS.

A former film and video director who has a degree in theater and English from Middlebury College, Ms. Landolphi draws on this background to engage the audience. By the end of the show, for example, she has members of the audience on stage emulating the dancers in the film "Dirty Dancing" to show that sex involves more than just intercourse.

Despite the fun in her one-woman show, "Hot, Sexy and Safer," Ms. Landolphi said it was critical that the students learn about AIDS and safe sex. She noted that a National Centers for Disease Control study this year of nearly 17,000 college students nationwide found that 1 in 500 had tested positive for the AIDS virus. Just Like Mom

Ms. Landolphi's show evolved from a presentation she did at high schools and colleges in Massachusetts for three years. But her attitude goes back much further.

When she was a girl, her mother, Dorothy Landolphi, talked candidly with her about sex, though her mother's friends thought the knowledge would motivate Suzi to experiment sexually. But she waited until she was old enough to be responsible.

Now, night after night she uses the same sincere and honest approach of her mother with thousands of students at campuses from Boston to Los Angeles. Besides the use of condoms, her prescription for safe sex includes developing honesty, communication and trust in relationships, not rushing toward intercourse, and breaking through sexual stereotypes and myths.

"I don't make fun of AIDS," said Ms. Landolphi, a single mother who lives in Marblehead with her 16-year-old daughter. "All the jokes are around our inability to feel comfortable about sex."

Some students who come to "Hot, Sexy and Safer" blush, avert their eyes or squirm in their chairs, but Ms. Landolphi said most leave with a greater awareness of their sexuality and a resolve to behave more responsibly. She made such a deep impression on a group of 200 orientation volunteers at Brandeis University in Waltham this summer that student leaders argued about which group would arrange a return visit.

Mark Lagestee, a senior at California State University at Fullerton, saw "Hot, Sexy and Safer" last month. "It was the most successful educational program we've had here," he said in a telephone interview. "It was upbeat and we really had a good time while we learned something. That's important because it really scares me to think I have friends who are going to die from AIDS."

Claudia Rastrepo, a 20-year-old junior at Fullerton State, said she believed that many college students resist confronting the fact that AIDS could threaten their lives but that Ms. Landolphi's approach breaks through that resistance.

"We had a lecture on AIDS once before and very few people, maybe 10, showed up," Ms. Rastrepo said, adding about Ms. Landolphi: . "She doesn't use terminology that goes beyond our understanding. She's very hip." A Generation at Risk

Dale Orlando, executive director of the Fenway Community Health Center in Boston, where Ms. Landolphi was trained as a volunteer AIDS educator, called the show "an invaluable service." "The most highly affected groups are between the ages of 20 and 50, and if we don't do something now to stop the spread of HIV infection in our younger population, we are really going to be devastated as a society," Ms. Orlando said.

Miss Landolphi is hopeful. "If you have a forest fire, you get together a lot of people to fight it," she said. "If you're really smart, you send some of them 10 miles ahead to dig a ditch, even if that weakens the firefighting force, because when the fire finally gets to the ditch, it's going to stop. This generation is my ditch."



 


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Information in this article was accurate in November 5, 1989. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.