By Heather Oberlander
“(We) should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.”—Jonathan Larson
Jonathan Larson, the creator of “Rent,” cared very deeply about individuals and about creating community. Although Larson tended to be on the quiet side and was known to be “bookish,” he also had an innate ability to connect with other people. As a waiter at New York City’s Moondance Diner, he would often entertain groups of friends and restaurant patrons. He was so well-liked that, during his shifts, people would often go there just to see him. He lived in a tiny, heatless apartment with, due to economic necessity, a passel of roommates, but he also opened his home to an ongoing stream of travelers, friends who were “between apartments,” and others. When one of his best friends was diagnosed with HIV, Larson began attending support group meetings with him. At these meetings, his sense of connectedness with others grew into a more defined interest in building a community.
This interest in community deeply influenced Larson’s story of “Rent,” and is something that director William Cooper Howell wanted to fully explore in this production. To honor Larson’s sense of community building, Cooper created an ensemble-driven production. While this show was originally conceived with a strong ensemble presence — there are beautiful and exciting group numbers, and a few opportunities for solos where members of the ensemble can stand out — Cooper wanted to see if he could take the ideas of community and ensemble even farther.
In order to create this community, Cooper sought to give each of the actors, both “leads” and “ensemble members,” even more of an opportunity to connect with the other actors during the performance. For this reason, instead of merely having the ensemble on stage during the group numbers, Cooper has chosen to keep the entire cast on stage throughout the performance. He has also found more opportunities for ensemble members to have their own solo to express their unique creativity, and express themselves directly to you. This connection with the audience — our Rent community — helps bring Larson’s vision to light.
Tonight we invite you not only to enjoy the amazing music, intriguing stories, and fascinating characters of “Rent,” but also to feel the love for this show that comes from each of us, and our love for you, our community. Whether you are part of our SaltLake community, our Utah community, our school community, our theater community or have just joined our community for the evening, we invite you to be part of our “Rent” Family for tonight, for the run of our show, and forever.