Before Rent, I was a moderately terrible person. Not horrible, mind you. I was nice to my classmates, polite to adults, and was a generally happy person. My main flaw was how I secretly viewed other people. My family, you see, is full of conservatives who have difficulty seeing things from someone else’s point of view, especially if those people aren’t like them, and I was sucked into the same school of thought for the first sixteen years of my life. Like my family, I wasn’t open about the disdain I felt for some people in this world, but I felt it, all the same. Discussions about race and sexuality made me extremely uncomfortable, thanks to my extended family’s influence, so I never associated with the people my family scorned. All of this began to change, however, when one day in my sophomore choir class my teacher showed the first twenty minutes of a musical that would change my life.
I never noticed how conservative my family is until probably eighth or ninth grade. My immediate family sponsored a little girl in Mexico when I was in early elementary school, and one day my sisters and I got to talking about how fun it would be to have an adopted sibling like her from a foreign country. Our hopes were quickly dashed, however, when our mom told us how furious our grandfather would be if we adopted a child who wasn’t white. While I do admit to having racial prejudices in the past, my views were nowhere near as extreme as my family’s, and I vividly remember how shocked I was by that statement. Over the years, my awareness of my extended family’s character flaws broadened, and I began to notice the jokes that they made about people of color and homosexuals.
All of my beliefs began to shift one day in my sophomore choir class. It was towards the end of the semester, and my teacher decided to give my class a musical theatre education instead of making us sing. The show he chose to play for us was the 2008 DVD recording of Rent, the final performance on Broadway. That day, I was shocked by the characters in the show. I barely even knew what a drag queen was, so Angel was a complete surprise, especially since he is also gay. Mimi was far too risqué, and although I found Roger to be an intriguing character, his past drug use and the fact that he has HIV was just too much for my sheltered little conservative mind to handle. I went home that day minorly scandalized and looked up the show’s synopsis, where I was even more shocked to find that about half of the leading characters have HIV/AIDS, or are gay. I made up my mind that the show sounded way too depressing for me to enjoy, and I resolved to never finish watching it.
This show, however, seemed destined to be life-changing for me. Roger’s song, “One Song Glory,” in which he expresses his need to write one meaningful song before he dies, lodged itself in my head and refused to budge. That June I finally succumbed to this earworm and watched the 2005 movie version of Rent with my sisters. I was astonished to find that the show I was determined to hate actually resonated with me. I fell in love with the characters I initially despised. Mimi, Maureen, and Joanne, who are the show’s female leads, now make up the core of my dream roles. “Out Tonight” and “Without You” are now two of my go-to audition songs. The songs are both heartbreaking and beautiful, the characters are complex and relatable, and the show truly does a magnificent job of conveying the idea of living each day as it is your last. The theme of acceptance especially related to the ideas of tolerance that I struggled with, and helped me navigate the road to becoming a better person.
From the day I first watched the movie, I was hooked. I created a Rent station on Pandora and listened to it whenever I had the chance, I found the 2008 version on YouTube and watched the whole thing repeatedly, and I purchased the entire 1996 original Broadway cast recording and joined the rest of the Renthead community in dissing the movie version in favor of the original Broadway cast. For my senior choir project, I researched and presented the origins of Rent, much to my teacher’s delight.
It is this ongoing obsession with Rent that transformed me into the person I am today. When I first watched Rent, I was shocked by the obvious portrayals of transgender, gay, and non-white people . This musical is what inspired me to start performing in musical theatre. My high school is known for having an extremely diverse student body, and this trend is echoed in the theatre department. During my time in my high school theatre, I befriended people of different races and sexual orientation. I learned that despite what my mildly racist, homophobic family taught me, gay, transgender, and people of different races are still just people, and are nothing to shun or be afraid of.