Saturday, October 26, 2013

Take Me Or Leave Me: RENT from a Feminist Perspective

The cast of Forbidden Planet Productions' RENT performing "Seasons of Love." 
Photo credit: The GW Hatchet

As a student at The George Washington University, I am actively involved in the student-run theatre organization, Forbidden Planet Productions, and I currently serve as the company's Executive Producer. FPP is known for putting on musicals and straight plays, as well as its annual production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," I have performed and/or worked backstage in 13 FPP productions since my freshman year, but the past eight weeks have been the most meaningful, as I got to work on my all-time favorite show, RENT.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show (shame on you!), here's a little background on it taken from Wikipedia:

RENT is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème. It. tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York City's Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

RENT has connected to millions of people since it first premiered on Broadway in 1996 and is the ninth longest-running Broadway show in history, closing in 2008 after a 12-year run. The show has not only connected to people suffering with AIDS or people who know others who suffer from the disease and/or died from it. The show connects to artists, loners, LGBT people and allies, as well as people of all ages, races, classes, and sizes from all over the world.

I was a little late on the band wagon, as I did not fully discover the show until my sophomore year of high school. I had been familiar with the songs from an early age since it was my mother's favorite show and she would play the soundtrack all the time, but I had never seen a production until I saw the movie when I was 16.

That first time that I watched the movie was around the time that my grandfather died. He was the first person close to me that had ever died, and RENT helped me to cope with my grief. To this day, I cannot watch or listen to "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" without thinking of him.

Another reason as to why RENT means so much to me as that it is considered by many to be a feminist work of art. With cross-dressers and LGBT characters, RENT celebrates freedom of expression and praises openness. In "Modern Feminism: Taking a Cue from Broadway's RENT," Yahoo blogger Kaira Williams discusses why the character Joanne Jefferson is "one of the strongest female characters on stage and film." Williams writes:

Joanne Jefferson is a character that stands out as really breaking out of the typical Hollywood gender, race and sexuality restrictions. Joanne is a successful black, lesbian lawyer who comes from a well-to-do family and constantly comes through for her friends and life-partner throughout the film. She exhibits characteristics of any protagonist male character that one would normally see in a Hollywood movie, and she accomplishes these feats with her clothes on. Joanne is a strong woman because not her race, sexuality or gender is touched upon as being an issue in the movie. She is female to the core, and does not hesitate to show more "female aspects" of her personality, but never wavers in her strength throughout those moments.

Joanne is pretty kick-ass and is one of my favorite characters in the show. She sings the duet "Take Me or Leave Me" with her girlfriend, Maureen, and the song is one of, if not the most powerful female duet in all of Broadway. 

All in all, RENT speaks to me not only on a personal level, but also on a broader level, as it is a work of art that works towards a cause that I care deeply about: feminism. I am beyond proud of the cast and crew of Forbidden Planet Productions' RENT and I am honored to have been a part of the production.


In this spoof of Bad Lip Reading, the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" performs "Out Tonight," from RENT!

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