RENT and the AIDS movement

GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 04:47pm
Robbie, the "exceedingly broad statements" didn't originate with me here (though I'm sure I've been guilty of making them before). What I suggested was that the people making them ought to support them. The point certainly wasn't that I am being personally neglected. (Obviously not.)

If I seemed ungrateful for your responses, I apologize.

In re RENT, every term I would have a number of RENT fans in my classes and I would watch as they returned to see RENT week after week after week. Now that certainly made money for the owners of RENT, but I don't know that any other change was effected. I'm sure we can both appreciate the irony of kids paying $100+ for tickets to hear other kids sings about the evils of bourgeois commercialism. (No, I don't think the show's popularity was a crisis in Western civilization. But I do think it tended to be the safest possible place where middle-class kids could play at being bohemians.)

I really don't know the history of URINETOWN. (Was Kay Walbye in it with you? She's an old friend.) I only saw it recently and very much enjoyed it. If you say it helped to insure the survival of the NY Fringe Festival, I believe you and good for the show.

Obviously, every show that succeeds has at least the potential of convincing somebody (including audience members) to invest in yet another show. A rising tide floats all boats when it comes to the theater. I do believe that, because it is my personal experience: if I enjoy a show, I immediately want to see another one.

But also obviously, that's not the same thing as affecting society outside the theater itself.
SonofRobbieJ
Broadway Legend
joined:12/10/09
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 05:11pm
As I'm not someone who trades in exceedingly broad statements, but with specifics (I use that as an actor, too!), I generally stick with arguments that could be...well...argued. I thought the original post was remarkably broad, and most people tended to respond specifically to the flaw in the logic. But you managed to make an incredibly broad argument that theatre can effect no change. It was so broad, that it was impossible to answer. So people started to answer in specific ways how certain shows can change the way things are done so that theatre reaches more people, or newer audiences.

I didn't say that Urinetown insured the survival of the Festival. I said that it showed the viability of the show starting at the Festival. It quickly became a place where other shows went to get buzz (Debbie Does Dallas; Silence! The Musical), and, I would argue, it inspired other summer theatre festivals ie, NYMF, which gave a major boost to Feeling Electric (now Next to Normal), which went on to win a Pulitzer. Sure...this isn't the same as theatre being the dominant cultural force in our society. But neither of us have lived in a world where that is true.

I don't think you were ungrateful. But it feels like you just don't wish to engage with someone who lived the experience of being the first group of performers in NYC to be affected by RENT and who will tell you that a lot did change. In the theatre world, at least. We all had to learn to sing very differently. We all went from trying to look like Marius to trying to look like Roger or Marc. We went from being a part of an old fashioned, retro career to actually feeling like we were part of something hip (even if that wasn't actually the case...it was certainly the feel of the city at that time). I get your cynicism about RENT and the tension between its message (which I would argue was not actually anti-commercialism, but something much simpler: 'No day but today') and the fact that people were shelling out mucho bucks to see it. But you're is a perspective of distance. Which is not something I'm judging. I'm just offering the perspective of someone who experienced it close up.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 05:39pm
Fair enough, Robbie. I did indeed make the overly broad statement that "theater doesn't matter" and I have already admitted that I was being deliberately provocative in the face of what struck me as equally broad claims for the efficacy of theater. And in response I got a lot posts that seemed to say "My sister's boyfriend's cousin, Susie, really likes theater, so therefore it matters."

And that's fine as far as it goes. I've attended Peter Seller's "Disneyland is a Fascist Attempt to Divert Us from Real Change" lecture and I don't need to repeat it here. If a trip to the theater is simply two hours of diversion, then that is its own merit, I suppose. Better than sitting on the couch watching JERSEY SHORE if only because we have to get up off the couch.

Another way to counter my argument is to point out, as you and few others have done, specific examples of changes effected by theatrical productions. Those have been in short supply here, probably because our theater's primary remaining purpose is to reassure members of the middle class (I'm a member, too) that the world really is as we see it, while also letting us congratulate ourselves on our erudition. Or, in the alternative, we can go to the Public and then feel good that we have braved the downtown area while expanding our horizons--before going back to the very lives we lived before.

As for URINETOWN, I only wrote "helped to insure". I didn't think or imply that you were making exaggerated claims for its importance. And, again, I was frankly surprised how much I liked the show. (It IS a terrible title, as the text points out.)

Likewise, I will entirely take your word as to how RENT changed performers who appeared in it or hoped to do so. I am not a performer and have no reason to disbelieve you. This is not an unwillingness to "engage", just an honest acknowledgement that I haven't the experiences you have had. I'm very grateful that you shared yours. From my admittedly distant view, it seems that every half-decade or so there's a show that galvanizes the Broadway (and Broadway-hopeful) community. I remember when it was A CHORUS LINE, then EVITA, etc.

But at the risk of seeming contrary, I have to note that, here again, we're talking about how theater has changed the theater.

I thought the issue was how theater changes the world. No?

(ETA I'm sure you know RENT better than I and I trust your articulation of its core "thesis". But it is called "RENT", not "TODAY".)



Updated On: 7/5/12 at 05:39 PM
qolbinau
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/08
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 06:46pm
I agree the issue is whether RENT changed something, maybe not the world. Increasing AIDS awareness within NYC would be something.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 07:01pm
^^^qolbinau, sure it would. But as others have pointed out, RENT came along a little late for that news. Still it may have informed teens who hadn't been paying attention to traditional news media.
After Eight
Broadway Legend
joined:6/5/09
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 08:18pm
"And, no, I don't think it's any great crime to color-coordinate one's decor. (It gives a bland result much of the time, but that's not a crime.) "

So says the authority on interior design. Make sure to forward this pronouncement to Architectural Digest, Veranda, and the like. I'm sure they would enjoy a good laugh too.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 09:23pm
^^^And here he is, right on schedule! $20 to the first person who can find a post where I claim to be an "authority on interior design".
Wynbish
Broadway Legend
joined:4/27/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 09:48pm
Can I just say that I am fascinated by this thread? Both sides are eloquently making points. That is all.
FindingNamo
Broadway Legend
joined:7/22/03
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 11:30pm
Once upon a time there was a sweet little Off-Bway show called "The Vagina Monologues." It became a hit. Its feminist point of view was something a lot of the younger audience members thought they were post-. It's something many of its older audience members thought had passed.

Yet it shed light on stories from around the globe, bringing mainstream attention to female genital mutilation, rape, and women's basic human right to self-determination and pleasure. Big deal, who cares, exposing an audience to a woman-centered point of view is NOTHING, it's not like those audience members went out and did anything to change the world.

Oh, except for the little fact that The Vagina Monologues spawned The V-Day Foundation, which in ten years raised over 85 MILLION DOLLARS that was distributed to organizations and groups that fight violence against women and girls.

We weren't talking about Vagina Monologues, Gaveston? Tough titties. Why don't you consider what was accomplished by a cool little piece of theater and talk to me like a five year old so that I can finally understand your inarguable point that even thinking theater can change the world is a futile exercise that's essentially patting myself on the back, since I had the good taste to see the show four times?

Go ahead.



'Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.' -- RW Emerson
Updated On: 7/5/12 at 11:30 PM
Idiot
Broadway Star
joined:10/9/10
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/5/12 at 11:41pm
Sorry, but the title of this post has bugged me for days and it just won't go away.

Every time I read 'AIDS Movement', I picture a black shadow moving across the landscape, killing my friends.

'AIDS ACTIVISM' might have been a better choice of words.
SonofRobbieJ
Broadway Legend
joined:12/10/09
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 10:40am
And, of a more recent vintage, there is the Shitshow that surrounded Mike Daisey and his 'reportage' theatre piece on the Apple factory in China.

If theatre can no longer inspire change, why the hell hari kari your career over a fake story??

Perhaps it is your distance from NY that is coloring your view about what theatre in NYC really is. You brought up Follies in regards to something recent that moved you and forced you to think and listen in a way you feel you haven't in a while. I liked Follies. A lot. But I don't think it would be in the top 10 productions I've seen in the last 10 years or 15 years. The Mendes/Marshall CABARET was shocking in its overt sexuality and its go-for-broke performances that were shattering. The Scottsboro Boys was one of the most difficult nights in the theatre I've ever had, and it shook me to my core. Caroline, or Change is perhaps the best musical of the new century. Yes...none of these were major hits (well...Cabaret was a huge hit). But I'm very, very grateful that these works, though overshadowed, are still being done. Because it holds out the possibility that something serious and difficult and thought-provoking will once again speak to society in a way that breaks through.

castlestreet
Broadway Star
joined:7/2/10
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 11:53am
A little late to this party I guess, but I'll chime in...

I have always felt that RENT was important to the theater world because it brought a newer and younger generation into the fold. They in turn branched out over time and fell in love with other shows/composers/artists and that is how it happens- same thing happened with Phantom & Les Miz in the 80's.

As far as its meaning to the AIDS crisis- I have to agree with what most people have already said here- the damage had mostly already been done, and chronicled by 96'- I've always thought the Book & Movie "And The Band Played On" did a very nice job with this and they came out in 87' and 93'. But in terms of breaking new ground I don't think it did that. Even in terms of shock value or showing people things they might not have seen before, transvestites, gay couples, strippers (for those of us in rural America)- people forget that things like The Jerry Springer Show were already big TV hits by this time and all you had to do was turn on the TV to be shown this whole other world.

And as far as Theater not being able to move people- I couldn't disagree more. I know people who have seen things like La Cage Aux Folles, or The Normal Heart and walked away with totally different views on life. It does still happen!
PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 01:25pm
If you want to see what the "AIDS movement" was like, look for this movie, "United in Anger," which the NY Times reviewed today.

This picture is of a beautiful and talented Broadway actor, Mark Fotopoulos, who was felled by the Plague.



Mark kept marching and carrying that sign, with the number advancing, until he couldn't any more. Mark was "living with AIDS," as they sing in Rent, until he was dead from AIDS.

And at no point during the time Mark was alive to carry that sign did Mr. Reagan, the president of the United States, utter the words "AIDS" or "HIV," neither in a speech, a press conference, or instructions to his cabinet.


Taking Aim at a Lethal Disease, and Making Sure Everyone Else Does, Too ‘United in Anger: A History of Act Up,’ by Jim Hubbard
yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates
Updated On: 7/6/12 at 01:25 PM
SNAFU
Broadway Legend
joined:4/20/04
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 01:50pm
Pal Joey, I remember him and his sign! I remember seeing him towards the end as well still with his sign. What a wave of sadness and anger just washed over me!
Those Blocked: SueStorm. N2N Nate. Good riddence to stupid! Rad-Z, shill begone!
FindingNamo
Broadway Legend
joined:7/22/03
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:03pm
'Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.' -- RW Emerson
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:14pm
Ditto, SNAFU. Thanks for the heads up on the film, PalJoey. Though I live in a small town, it's a small GAY town and Hubbard's film should end up here before long.

Namo, great example in THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES and it would be a great example even if it hadn't lead to a tangible response in terms of fundraising. It is truly an example of a play giving many viewers a new perspective on the world. (Elsewhere, I've said that M. BUTTERFLY did something similar for me.)

AND I AM VERY SORRY that I seemed to condescend to YOU. I promise you that was not my intention; I'm sure I was just sorting my own thoughts and trying to get them straight.

Castlestreet, it isn't an exaggeration to say Randy Shilts changed my life by radicalizing my politics with AND THE BAND PLAYED ON.

RobbieJ, I promise you I am painfully aware of my theatrical isolation in this desert resort community. But I didn't always live here. FOLLIES is my favorite show because it opened my mind to so many theatrical possibilities when I was a teenager AND, I would argue, was pretty transformative in terms of the way it represented our most sacred cows in 1971. No, unfortunately, I can't compare it to THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, but I doubt the comparison would be fair to the earlier show anyway; four decades have passed (which is not to say we don't still make some of the same mistakes). I will happily take your word on Kander and Ebb et al. and their achievement, and also on the other two shows you mention.

So I have conceded that ON OCCASION the theater can offer us something more than 2 hours of colored lights and fairy tales. Is that enough to make everyone happy? :)
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:20pm
Just another example of theatre having effecting no change in the larger world

Namo, I don't think anyone can deny the theater community (elsewhere, too, but especially in NYC) has contributed greatly to AIDS research and relief, as well as other causes.
SonofRobbieJ
Broadway Legend
joined:12/10/09
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:25pm
But the theatre is constantly offering more than colored lights and fairy tales. That's what I think some of us are responding to in your posts. You are quite literally wandering the desert. And that's awesome. Would love to live in that resort town (or at least visit for a good long time). But the very fact that Urinetown seemed new to you made me take pause. I mean...I sang those songs on a stage over 13 years ago.

I understand your perspective. I even understand your provocative question. But you have to realize that what you are describing is not actually the reality for many of us making (or trying to make) a living in the theatre. You could say we're myopic and can only see our little corner of the world...but that would be true of you as well.
WhizzerMarvin TrinaJasonMendel
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/05
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:52pm
I'm joining this thread very late and I confess to not having read every response, but I wanted to chime in.

To answer the original question, Rent did in fact have a big effect on AIDS awareness and AIDS education. Perhaps it was old news in NYC and had little impact here, it certainly had a big impact in other parts of the country. Growing up in Ohio, HIV and AIDS were just not discussed. Someone else mentioned this being the case in their small, conservative Texas town as well.

Stuff like The Normal Heart and Angels in America hadn't penetrated our area. Maybe a tour came through, but it didn't have any impact. It was Rent that brought change. It opened up discussion about the disease that truly was not there before. It was a force of cultural change. It was extra shocking that it delivered it's message with hope.

Theater, through Rent, still had cultural impact and ability to change and start dialogue. It certainly did with me and my parents, church group and teachers. Gaveston- theater still is a lot more effective in other parts of the country than you might think.
Marie: Don't be in such a hurry about that pretty little chippy in Frisco. Tony: Eh, she's a no chip!
BwayEqs
Stand-by
joined:6/20/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:56pm
Rent was a good musical. I liked it. "525,600 minutes"
They all call me a troll. Ok, call me a troll. If I stand on my own, so be it.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/6/12 at 05:58pm
Good, Whizzer, I'm glad to hear it.

Robbie, I just lost a much longer post in response to yours. Suffice it to say, yes, Palm Springs can be isolating unless you have unlimited time and money to go into L.A.

But I lived in the latter when URINETOWN toured. I just didn't happen to catch it.

But I knew of its existence. The Pony Express comes through town every Thursday with the previous Sunday's YUMA GAZETTE. :)



Updated On: 7/6/12 at 05:58 PM
PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/8/12 at 09:43pm
Watch.

This.

Trailer.

http://youtu.be/77X4DKyH8SM

And then see the movie.
yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/8/12 at 09:52pm
Boy, that does bring back memories, joey!

Which is good.

I think.

In the 80s, I worked at a large law firm where it literally came down to the office manager saying, "Anyone who doesn't want to work with gay or HIV+ people can go find the door instead." It's scary to remember how people's lives sometimes depended on the conscience of a single person in power.
FindingNamo
Broadway Legend
joined:7/22/03
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/8/12 at 11:29pm
It literally came down to that, huh?
'Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.' -- RW Emerson
PalJoey
Broadway Legend
joined:3/11/04
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/9/12 at 12:52am
I am featured in that clip, in the Grand Central Station Die-In demonstration.



I am the fourth incomprehensible gray blob on the left near the stairway.

That's me! Getting ready to join the die-in on the floor of Grand Central Station while my father had to step over me to catch the 5:52.

yr pal,
joey




Blocked so far: suestorm, Master Bates
Updated On: 7/9/12 at 12:52 AM
Wynbish
Broadway Legend
joined:4/27/12
RENT and the AIDS movement
Posted: 7/9/12 at 01:02am
Man, stuff like that does not happen in my part of Georgia. The only activism I see here is whether or not the college's football coach should stay.

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