My very last post about RENT (this week)

Some of the author's RENT gak
Some of the author's RENT gak

Yes, yes, you’re rolling your eyes, you’re saying “enough, already with the RENT, Rebecca. We get it. You love RENT.”

All that is certainly true, but this is a post that is only tangentially about my favorite musical. It’s more about the power of social networking (another of my favorite things).

There was this huge caffufle about RENT last week. A new version of the show, which is cleaned up a little bit, taking out the heavy swearing and explicit bits (like “Contact”) has been specially created for High Schools to produce. One high school, Corona Del Mar in California, had it scheduled as thier spring production. Coincidentally, they’ve been having a few issues with homophobia, and the choice to produce RENT was probably deliberate.

The caffufle happened when the show got cancelled. The reaons are not entirely clear why, but there is some concern that the play was deemed, even in its less-spicy state, to be, well, too spicy. Cries of ‘homophobia!’ were heard, and a bunch of the students got the word out via social networking sites like Facebook and Bloggers.

It worked. There were stories in the LA Times, the NY Times, and lots and lots of blogs.

All’s well that ends well: the show is back on.

Let this be a lesson: don’t cross the kids. They know how to mobilize.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 13

  1. Yeah, watch out for the kiddies… they’re teaching us a lot about the “new world” right now.

    Oh, and I love your use of the word “caffufle” – It feels great in the mouth, and people just don’t use it enough! My mother (who speaks a strange mix of southern and Jewish) would be proud!

  2. I love ‘Rent.’ Seriously. And I am glad those kids are managing to get it produced. But WHY does every hit Broadway musical feel compelled to come out with a high school version upon closing? Financial gain, I get. But isn’t this a serious artistic compromise?

  3. Good question. I guess you could look at it this way: is it not important to be producing plays for high school that are socially relevant (even if they are a dumbed-down version of the original)? I think so many teachers and parents think that their kids can’t handle it–I think they have no idea how sophisticated teenagers are, these days.
    And I worry about (and have posted about) how our theatre audiences are getting older, and wonder where our future audiences will come from? We need to hook a new generation, and, while I love Shakespeare, we probably won’t do it with that. We need to hook them in with stuff they can relate to/care about.
    Just IMHO.

  4. I’m very conflicted about the high school version of Rent. (And I too love the word caffufle).

    Yes, students should be given opportunities for challenging, intense material. I’m all for that, and write that. I give a little internal cheer when I get a production of one of our less than fluffy plays. Censorship is a constant struggle.

    But the stories in Rent seem to be entrenched in the 20 something experience. And if it has to be dumbed down, what exactly has been left that is challenging and intense? I’m certainly speaking out of turn but the fact that it has to be changed at all….. why not give high school students strong material that’s in their age range? That is their social issue experience. That’s about the characters and the material and doesn’t need to be cleaned up to suit administrators?

    I work with a lot of students. I love writing for and working with teenagers. But the emotional core of the teenager has not changed. Not in ten years, in twenty years, in thirty years. Are they more aware of things? Of course they are, it’s everywhere. But the ability to handle all situations with sophistication? Not in my experience.

    Whew, that’s a big lot of IMHO….:)

  5. I suppose it depends on how you determine ratings…They aren’t far different from movies, and most teenagers are granted permission by parents to see “R” rated films. However, since it is in a high school you have to take into consideration a larger demographic of students and parents who may have a lower tolerance for higher rated entertainment. In which case, it then becomes about obtaining permission from parents to attend or participate in the entertainment, much like a field trip. I think it is important to take into consideration which productions we are choosing for our high schools, since one of the benefits in having high school theatre is not only the opportunity to learn about theatre, but for the audience’s (generally high school students) to see their peers work.

    On a side note, I think it is fantastic that students can use their new found voice over the internet to speak their minds! Unfortunately, it is difficult to decipher which voices are pleas for understanding and which are cries for attention.

  6. LP,

    I don’t think you’re wrong per se, but the greatest experiences of my high school life were Midsummers and the VERY inappropriate Shadow Box.

    In my experience the scripts for high schools are generally not only bland, but aggressively not good. Aren’t we doing them more of a disservice to only allow them to do bland bad theatre while we wait for them to be mature enough to handle the better stuff?

    The answer of course is to get better TYA and youth theatre pieces written, but that doesn’t seem to be here. What’s the middle ground?

  7. Easier said than done, but I’d propose that the middle ground IN SCHOOLS for now has to be a combination of musicals, classics and the good-as-you-can-find TYA plays.

    Deciding what to produce is tough in “education land.” Brand name musicals (both simplified and not) do sell well and let the students sink their teeth into familiar and “safe” material. (Funny that the “hot box girls” in Guys and Dolls and the “Pussy Wagon” in Grease are safer than the transsexual in Rent).

    But while the musicals sell better, my student actors seemed to enjoy and learn as much or more from Shakespeare and the Greeks. The universality of these stories seemed just f*ed up enough to be relate-able. And while these kids are emotionally still just “kids”, Rebbecca’s right that they are far more “worldly wise” about adult topics than the gatekeepers want to recognize. The classics let you talk about sex, drugs, existential stress, and the like, while a contemporary play about the same subject matter would never be allowed in the curriculum.

    I think there’s a missing component though – I think THEATRE COMPANIES have to do what we can to pick up the slack. Our companies should be generating more TYA scripts and stimulating student developed work. We have the ability to be honest and frank with young people without some of the red tape of the ed system. And I know it’s difficult for us to do it, but I’m not sure the education system will be able to do more than it is anytime soon.

    Not to mention that if we (the prof. theatre community) want tomorrow’s audience to buy tickets to more than just the latest Broadway tour, we have to build meaningful connection to both the theatre and the spoken word.

    Now, if only I had all the answers on HOW to do that… I do find myself spending more and more time working on grants than combine teaching artists with young people. I that must be part of the start…

  8. Wow, awesome comments. Just goes to show, you never know what kind of blog post will spark a caffufle! (that one’s for you, Patrick!)
    First off, Lindsay, I think the kind of plays you write are rare. My high school experience was Romeo and Juliet, The Pajama Game, and Oklahoma. High schools do need to be concerned about filling the seats and paying for those expensive rights. As well, they want to stuff as many kids as possible into shows, so it helps to have ones with big casts.
    Our local Green Thumb theatre co does provocative stuff for young audiences, and tours to high schools. So, maybe, when it comes to young audiences, there is room for everyone. After all, not everyone will grow up to be a theatre-lover. Some will buy the tix to the big touring shows, and that’s it. Some, like us, will become theatre nerds and go all the edgy, contemporary stuff out there.
    What i think is important is that they are exposed to it all, so they can start to figure out what it is that they like…. I didn’t get that opportunity until University.

  9. I agree great conversation. There’s another huge conversation about art vs commerce going round that’s been making my head spin to the point that I can’t even read the posts.

    Theatre companies actually aren’t free from the education system red tape – their youth stuff still depends on schools buying tickets (as opposed to individual youth) and I can think of at least two instances off the top of my head where school boards banned their schools from attending because of the material.

    It’s a tricky tightrope that really depends on individual teachers and individual principals. When schools are forced to do fluff, it’s almost always because the principal won’t stand behind their drama teacher over the possibility of complaint.

    On the up side, I do know many of those individuals who strive for excellence, challenge and risk in their plays. We purposefully have those types of plays in our catalogue even though they don’t sell well. I do a little dance every time they get a production.

  10. loved the blog!!

    and i couldnt help but notice the RENT hat in the corner of the photo. may i ask where you got it?? being a RENT fan myself, i would love one!!! thanks!! =^)

    -jack!!

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