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Student Blog: There's Only This

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Jonathan Larson, Stephen Sondheim, and What Creativity Means to Teens

Student Blog: There's Only This

I was obsessed with RENT in high school. What fourteen-year-old living in a cloistered, conservative town in the middle of nowhere wouldn't be? Confined by linoleum and fluorescent lights day in and day out, I skulked the hallways of Bradford Area High School with my headphones jammed into my ears listening to "La Vie Boheme" and dreaming of something bigger.

RENT was everything that my life was not: artistic, exciting, passionate. It was a musical of friendship and creativity-of sticking to your dreams no matter what life threw at you. The music was loud and in-your-face; it reminded me of everything else I was populating my teenage hours with-My Chemical Romance, R.E.M., Queen. There were characters I could latch onto and identify with. (I was especially fond of Mark, wannabe film student that I was.)

But, above all, there was poetry. The words of RENT enchanted me more than anything else, because, like it or not, I was and always will be a word person. It stamped itself into my brain and made my heart beat a tattoo against my chest.

How do you document real life when real life's getting more like fiction each day?

There's only us, there's only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.

To starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension.

Measure your life in love.

Those words inspired me. They kept me chasing my dreams and refusing to compromise-for better or worse. Perhaps more importantly, they were my gateway drug to Sondheim and Schwartz and Kander and Ebb. It was the accessible theatre that paved the way for me to appreciate older material.

It seems that, too often, our heroes are the ones that are gone too soon. Everybody knows the tragic story of Jonathan Larson-now more than ever with the newly-released Tick, Tick...Boom! on Netflix. Ever since I was fourteen, I've wanted to thank him for the way he made high school bearable for me.

And now, of course, we've lost another great: the very man to whom Larson and RENT were indebted. The same man whose work, I'm sure, on which Larson's adolescence subsisted. Their stories are very different-Larson passed away young and suddenly, which Sondheim, by any definition, lived a long and full life.

And yet it doesn't feel like enough.

And yet, when somebody creates something so magnificent, so beautiful, so full of emotion and humor and, yes, color and light, there is never enough time. Whether your hero is 35 or 91, their passing will come far too soon for everybody's taste. The world can be a dark place, but to its credit, it knows talent. Sure, there are the discerning producers and the jaded showbiz types that make or break art, and there are the rich, snooty theatergoers who don't realize how good they have it.

But somewhere, in some rural bedroom or art room or rehearsal room, there are kids with nothing but a story and a far-fetched dream. That's who Jonathan Larson was. That's who he wrote for. Sondheim, too-they wrote for the joy of it, for the expulsion of emotion, for the addition of something beautiful and dazzling into the world. They wrote so that someday, a few decades from now, the hottest new playwright or composer will stand onstage and thank them for that first spark of imagination.

And somewhere, another kid will be watching, eyes widening and horizons broadening. The cycle goes on, thanks to Jonathan Larson and Stephen Sondheim. The lineage continues. Art survives.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson