Note from Director Julia Deter on RENT at The Umbrella
November 10, 2022 by Stewart Ikeda
“In these dangerous times, where it seems the world is ripping apart at the seams, we can all learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face everyday. [We] should reach out to each other and bond as a community rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.”
Jonathan Larson, written shortly before his sudden death during the night before Rent’s Off-Broadway premiere.
In 1991, when our story begins, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was reaching new proportions. The crisis was being actively ignored by the government, misinformation about how the disease spread ran rampant, and the one drug available to help, azidothymidine (AZT), had dubious effectiveness at best and a host of debilitating side effects at worst. Because the disease primarily affected marginalized communities and those deemed to be living in moral failure, sufferers were often ostracized by their families. The act of building one's own community, surrounded by ‘chosen family’, became necessary for survival. These are the conditions under which our characters unite with each other.
Those familiar with the original production will notice that we have changed the names of the characters in the Life Support Group. Life Support is based on a real organization called Friends In Deed. Larson frequented this group with his friends who were living with AIDS and whose names were in the original Life Support scene. None of them survived to see opening night. The scripts encourage us to
change the names of these characters to honor those we have lost. The names you will hear tonight are lent by our cast and crew in remembrance of their dearly departed.
At its core, however, Rent is a show about life, not death; love, not loss. It teaches us to live for today, and to love fiercely and unconditionally. It is no accident that “No day but today,” the motto of the Life Support group, is echoed throughout the show. Rent asks us to live now and to love now, because tomorrow is never promised.
Today, we experience Rent through the lenses of ongoing racial, social and economic inequities, political strife, and the health crisis that is COVID-19. I believe Rent is more than a period piece; it is as timely and relevant as ever. Its enduring impact is testament to the genius and sensitivities of Jonathan Larson and his creative team.
In the words of Michael Grief, director of the original Broadway production, “I assert that everyone who gets to work on Rent grows personally and artistically. Our hearts get bigger, more open. Our minds get sharper. We're better equipped to take care of our children and our parents and our friends and the world. We've learned to measure our lives in love, and take no joy or sorrow for granted.” I hope
that you, the audience, can take a piece of that love and joy out of this theater to share with those you hold close.
Julia Deter, Director