The AIDS epidemic had a devastating, lasting impact on New York City's downtown artist community. Some of Performance Space New York's most influential artists (John Bernd, Ethyl Eichelberger, Ron Vawter, David Wojnarowicz) died prematurely, leaving a gaping hole in this community and a subsequent generation without important mentorship. When Ishmael Houston-Jones first started working on Them at Performance Space 122 in 1985, with a text by Dennis Cooper and a cacophonous live electric guitar score by Chris Cochrane, the show was intended to be a poetic and frank coming-of-age story of gay men. By the time it premiered in 1986, AIDS was ravaging queer communities, and the artists felt it would be disingenuous not to address it in the work. They consequently included coded allusions to the epidemic and turned Them into one of the most haunting pieces of art to come out in the early AIDS years.