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Thomsen Talk: “100 years. Why RENT?”

A hundred years. Why RENT?

Quincy Community Theatre was founded on the principle to offer “plays of the highest standard.” I am so proud that, 100 years later, that mindset remains. As the Artistic Director, a principal responsibility of mine is to select the titles that the organization will produce. I review a plethora of titles and scripts and ask “why this story and why now?” Why did I decide to launch our centennial year with the musical Rent?

I fully admit that directing this musical scares me. What can a director whose favorite musicals include Hello, Dolly! and The Music Man bring to a rock musical set in the 1990s? Some of my greatest directing experiences have been with shows that I went into feeling unworthy and mismatched (director to the material), including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Mamma Mia! When I direct, I ask questions. I want to understand the world of the play and who the characters are and why they do/say what they do/say. Through in-depth conversations with the designers and actors, I learn about people and circumstances different from my own. Theatre is a great tool for entertainment and empathy.

Rent won the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It has been referred to as “the musical that defined a generation.” It holds such a special place in the hearts of many, and I think it’s because at its core, Rent is a celebration of diversity and community. It puts the marginalized into the spotlight. We are given characters who are HIV+ or have a drug addiction or are without a home. It would be very easy to judge these characters and their choices, to remove ourselves from their circumstances; but we are brought in to see these characters for the human beings they are. There is a lyric at the end of Act One that says, “to being an US – for once – instead of THEM.” It’s a cry for inclusion; walls of separation have been knocked down, and the “weirdos and the discarded” are seen and welcomed and invited to dance.

If you’re already a fan of the show, I hope that you will feel we celebrate what you know and love, while giving you something fresh in the experience. If Rent is new to you, I hope you attend with an open heart. Perhaps you will find a character that you relate to, or you will think about someone in a different way. It may give you the opportunity to change your view of a person who lives in the same world as you. Quincy Community Theatre is an organization that strives for excellence not only in programming but in relationships. We take on shows that will appeal to different kinds of people, that will lift us up, lead us to ask questions and engage in conversations, give us new ideas, and will, ultimately, make our community stronger. I am so proud to be directing Rent.

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