BANGOR, Maine — Dan Williams — sign language interpreter, performance artist, gay rights advocate, heart attack survivor — has a lot on his mind these days. At his upcoming one-man show, “A Signed Journey,” Williams will invite his audience to share some compelling life lessons.
“I’ll be taking people down Memory Lane — my Memory Lane — in sign, music and voice,” Williams, 61, of Bangor said in a recent interview. “I’m just so lucky to be alive. I’ve been given a second chance to do something important here on Earth.”
Williams’ most recent second chance came in December 2007, when he suffered a heart attack at a friend’s house. Chest pain, shortness of breath, clammy skin — he had all the classic signs. His friend had a pretty clear idea of what was happening, but Williams didn’t.
“I didn’t know the signs,” he said. “People need to know the signs of a heart attack.”
Over his protests, Williams’ friend called 911.
“I wasn’t insured, and I didn’t want her to call for an ambulance,” he said. “People should know they need to call anyway — when you’re having those symptoms, you don’t have much time left.”
Case in point: Williams’ heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He was revived, and he has survived. A year and half later, the still-burly man says he has improved his diet, lost weight, ramped up his physical activity, and learned to handle stress.
“Things that used to tick me off are no big deal now,” he said. “If I can’t change it, I just let it go.”
That’s one set of life lessons Williams will explore with his audience next month in Brewer. The other is his experience as a gay youth growing up in a straight world.
“I was subjected to a lot of negative bias when I was in high school,” he said. “When you’re a teenager, that’s when you’re struggling to find your identity. I had to repress mine. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived.”
Williams has been open about his sexuality for a long time now, but worries that young people still wrestle against fear, hatred and prejudice.
“Some things have changed, but not all that much,” he said.
A portion of the proceeds from his show will benefit the American Heart Association, and the rest will support the Howard Foundation, named after Charles Howard, an openly gay 23-year-old who in 1984 was beaten and thrown into Kenduskeag Stream, where he died.
A memorial has been erected at the site where Howard was attacked, but Williams said more must be done to reassure a new generation of gay and lesbian youths. He plans to use money raised at his show to bring supportive young adults to area schools and other sites to talk with teens about sexual identity.
“We need to be asking them what they’re so afraid of,” he said. “If you can get them talking about it, they find out it’s not as bad as they’re afraid it is.”
Williams’ show will be spoken, signed and set to popular music. He hopes to attract an audience of gay, straight, hearing and nonhearing individuals. There will be a discussion period after the show.
“A Signed Journey” will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday, June 5, and Saturday, June 6, at the Between Friends Arts Center and Gift Shop at 39 Center St. in Brewer. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the arts center ahead of time or just before the show.