Even Shakespeare could not have imagined the healing effects of That’s Why We’re Here, a triumph of drama therapy written and staged by a troupe of HIVers in modern-day Houston. Just ask veteran cast member Irma Copeland, 48, who’s been performing this show about life with HIV for three years at ASOs, churches, prisons, schools, health fairs, rehab groups and Ryan White planning council meetings. Some scenes from the play may sound melodramatic, but they’re all true stories from the cast’s lives: A man discloses his status and confronts his brother’s homophobia; a wife threatens her husband with a gun when she learns he infected her. “It’s therapeutic—it helps us deal with HIV every day,” Copeland says.

A case manager at AIDS Foundation Houston by day, Copeland craved the bright lights after seeing That’s Why We’re Here’s premiere in 2000. Now her personal story—she tested positive in 1996—is one of the art-imitates-life scripts. “I was never an acting person,” Copeland says, but she knew she was a natural once the curtain went up. Still, she gets opening-night jitters: “I carry index cards with my lines until our director says, ‘Baby, give me those cards. You know your lines!’” Drop Copeland a line at copelandi@afhouston.org.