Node your Homework!
- a paper, written sometime in 1998
. It got a C- That teacher hated me. Literally. But that's another
Note: the author is no longer a Renthead. But I still like the essay.
It takes a certain amount of dedication
to sit in the lobby of the Providence Performing Arts Center
for ten hours or more at a time. But for me and about thirty other fans of the new musical Rent during the touring production's week-long stint in Providence, it was not only a way to score
cheap tickets (the show's producers make it a policy to offer two rows of seats in the unused orchestra pit
for $20 apiece on the day of the show), but to make new friends. This show, since its Broadway
debut, has received massive media attention for its rock-flavored depiction of the lives of starving artists
s, and AIDS
"victims" in New York's Lower East Side
. Almost as much attention has been focused on us – the Rentheads – who, it is said, relate to these characters and situations as an accurate reflection of our generation; that we are, in essence, all oh-so-trendy bohemians or bohemian wannabe
s. Yet it seems that these newsmen have not taken the time to look at the actual people in lines in Providence and across the rest of the country. They'd be sure to find more middle-class poli-sci majors and high-school honors student
s there than poor filmmakers, drag queen
s, or HIV-positive S&M dancers. Perhaps these media types are missing another factor that really makes Rent find such dedicated young followers.
, after a three-year struggle to see his show realized on stage, died suddenly on the eve of Rent's last Off-Broadway
dress rehearsal. This tragedy, naturally, put the small show in the spotlight, and the production was rushed to Broadway where it won every award from a Tony
for Best Musical to a Pulitzer Prize
. It was new, fresh, and different, mixing modern musical style with traditional dramatic structure. The gritty yet charming characters were portrayed by largely unknown young actors, who despite their collective lack of experience (only three or four cast members out of nineteen had any significant stage experience beforehand), won acclaim for their realistic performances. In short, Rent was a perfect rags-to-riches story for the media to grab.
And grab hold they did. Every major newspaper and trade publication reviewed this hot new show and reported Jonathan Larson's story, which, though sad, made for great copy. Newsweek
did a cover story about it; MTV
aired a special with numbers from the show. And with this focus on Rent, naturally much of the attention spilled over onto the young people that camped outside the Nederlander Theatre, sometimes for days, to get the coveted pit tickets. These were the first Rentheads. So the media made a deductive leap; this, they said, was the show that would bring kids who had dismissed musicals as silly and stodgy
onto Broadway. For some reason, this show appealed to youth as no other show had before, and so they must identify with these settings and people in the show as they couldn't to, say, Les Misérables. Therefore, the younger generation that came again and again to see Rent must see itself as sexy
, and rebellious
, mocking authority at every turn, yearning to live "la vie bohème." How very hip
But they overlooked one important factor: the fans themselves. They weren't bohemians-in-training...they were the same middle-class students from Brooklyn
and Long Island
and New Jersey
that had been seeing Les Misérables
and Miss Saigon
and Guys and Dolls
for years. Yes, they came together at the Nederlander, which owed to the fact that the first-come, first-serve $20 tickets were being offered and students were about the only ones broke
and dedicated enough to actually wait long enough for them. And, yes, they did see themselves in the characters, but not because they were transvestites or dying songwriters or lesbian performance artists. They saw beyond the sex
, 'n' rock-and-roll
exterior of the show and saw through to what Jonathan Larson had often said he had wanted for his show – a story about staying true to yourself, your dreams, and most importantly your friends, no matter what happens. This was a show for and about friendship
; even if you entered the line alone, you would have thirty or so new friends by the time you actually entered for that night's show.
Many of the original Rentheads have by now sickened of seeing the show live, but to this day they remain friends even after the show. And we thirty or so in the line those days in Providence, more then two years after Rent's premiere and a year after the line system was abolished in New York, carried on their tradition by bonding over our shared love for a musical, when just a few hours ago we'd been complete strangers. The underlying message that makes the show for us ironically remains beyond the knowledge of many journalists despite the fact that it is the direct theme of "Seasons of Love
," the show's unofficial anthem
, always performed on talk-show cast appearances.
a year in the life of friends... Measure in love
," the song runs. The fans don't just identify with these words. They live them. Maybe the newspapers and magazines aren't able to understand that.