BWW Interviews: Anthony Rapp on Love, Loss and WITHOUT YOU
Anthony Rapp is perhaps best known for originating the role of 'Mark' in the Tony Award Winning Musical RENT, a show that focuses on a group of friends suffering through the perils of homelessness, disease, drug addiction, grief, loss and love. Anthony dedicated many years of his life to the music of RENT in one way or another, and in 2006 he wrote a bestselling book titled 'Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical RENT.' The poignant novel examines Anthony's life both before and after RENT, but uses the show's powerful themes to explore some of the more difficult events he experienced, including the death of his mother from cancer and the death of RENT author Jonathan Larson on the eve before opening night.
About a year after sharing his story with the world, Anthony began the process of turning the some three hundred and fifty paged book into a theatrical experience. The resulting show is 'Without You' and has just landed on stage in Toronto after very successful runs in Edinburgh and London's Menier Chocolate Factory. BWW caught up with Anthony to talk about the process of turning his book into a show, what life is like after you lose people you love, and why 'Original Cast Member of RENT' will always be the lead line in his obituary:
Congratulations on the success of Without You! When did you first decide to write the book?
I was encouraged and asked to consider writing it by a publisher. I said yes immediately not really knowing how I was going to do it, or how hard it was going to be. It ended up being the hardest thing I've ever done creatively speaking.
Writing 'Without You' took place over a number of years, with long periods of time where I wasn't writing much at all. And then near the end it all came out in a gush. I had tried so many things over the years, scheduling time to write, making goals or not making goals, but there really wasn't any rhyme or reason to it. It was like a marinade, it was ready when it was ready.
How did you decide to turn it into a show?
The book came out in February of '06 and in the summer of '07 a young producer asked me if I had ever thought about turning it into a show. I didn't even know where to begin so I contacted a good friend of mine and asked what he thought. He did me the great service of helping take the 300+ pages and condense it to around 100 pages. I didn't know where to begin chopping it up and had no objectivity whatsoever.
Once it was condensed I began to see how the show could possibly take shape. We did a reading which was open to the public and I invited people I really trusted like my brother Adam and Michael Greif - people I knew wouldn't bullshit me. I honestly didn't know if it could work as a theatrical event because it's a very different animal, but the response was so positive and every person encouraged me unequivocally to keep going.
What was harder, the book or the show?
The book. No question, it's not even remotely close. I think writing is very lonely, and not just in the 'I feel alone' sense but in the sense that it's a lonely process. As an actor there is a lot of collaboration and having those other minds and hearts helps shape your work. When I was writing Without You I would share some of the material with other people, but it was much harder to get clarity and just go for it. It was a very solitary experience.
You mention in your book how you felt very similar to the character of Mark in your real life - did writing this book help you come out of your shell?
I'm not sure it was a question of coming out of my shell, I don't think I was ever shy. What I meant when I said that was that I often struggled with talking about emotional stuff and I didn't find it very accessible. I was afraid of those types of conversations and feelings more than I am now. When I was writing the book I was never afraid to share, and there was even a certain amount of liberation to the whole experience.
I think the only thing I was afraid of was that I know I have a lot of younger fans and there are some darker moments in the book that I was concerned they might not completely understand. For instance, I once read someone on a message board say in reference to my book that 'beating up your boyfriend doesn't make you cool'. I knew that, I didn't include that because I was bragging or glorifying what I did. I put that material in to show that sometimes we can do horrible things, and have awful things happen and we can still heal, make amends and forgive. So sometimes I'm afraid of misunderstandings, but overall I think people have embraced and understood the material.