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No day but yesterday.

May 9, 2010

So I was in a community production of RENT that wrapped up a week ago tomorrow.

That could serve as an excuse for my recent lack of diligence in posting here or an announcement that it’s officially time to start kicking my ass if the neglect continues…but I’m not very interested in blogging about blogging (or lack therof), and I suspect that you ain’t either, so this is something else.

[The title made more sense when I was going to spend more space bitching about the kind of boring, ubiquitous plays that make me marvel that anybody thinks this theatre stuff is worth getting off the couch for.  It’s still secretly about that, but I wanted to keep the whole foaming-at-the-mouth situation in check…and avoid naming names, because as fun as it is to be vindictive, this isn’t so much about not wanting to see those plays again as it is about wanting to see plays that I’ve never even heard of, because people aren’t producing them, because people have this misguided notion that if you want people to pay money to see it, it has to be something they’ve already seen another dozen or so versions of.]

So.  RENT. 8 big fat nights* of ’90slicious, sequin-covered spectacle in a theatre so cozy that the fourth wall just isn’t an appropriate directorial choice**.

RENT is probably the least edgy ‘edgy’ thing in the world at this point.  Yeah, there’s a stripper.  And some same-sex make-outs.  And a manic pixie drag queen.  And a whole lot of background junkies.  And a professor who fucks shit up.  And a dead dog.  And an (arguably metaphorical) orgy.  But chances are, if any of this ever shocked you, you’re over that now.  At some point, whether by will or by osmosis, the entirety of this rock opera was transcribed into your (probably soft, tender adolescent) brain, another useless but kind of fun script you and your equally dorky friends can cough up at the slightest provocation for your mutual amusement.  Or maybe it’s not quite like that.  Maybe it just makes you cringe, because you’d like to think you’re cool enough now to un-remember all the words to La Vie Boheme — which of course you can never do.  Whatever.  The point is, for a lot of us, RENT stopped being art a long time ago, when it became a sort of nursery rhyme.  Comforting/embarrassing sounds from our younger days that probably bring back some kind of memory, but don’t often speak to us in their actual words any more.

There were a lot of those people on both sides of the stage of this production, and that was all right.

But I’d just like to state for the record that some of our best performers came into the show knowing next to nothing about it (or theatre of any sort), and more importantly, our best audiences looked an awful lot like the people we were supposedly begging to alienate by putting on such a risque show in our sweet little ol’ heritage-obsessed retirement town.

I’m usually not much of a matinee person.  You’re spending a (usually cruelly and unseasonably sunny) afternoon in a black box, plus you’ve usually spent every night for the past week or so in same box AND same clothes, so you’re smelly and tired and often, let’s face it, pretty fucking bored with the material, even if you haven’t known the show like the back of your hand since you were 14.  A matinee audience has to be pretty damn good at their job to make me truly appreciate how much nicer it is to be on the stage than in my bed.  I was a little bit skeptical about the magic of the theatre transcending the generation gap as I did a surreptitious demographic scan of the crowd during the first big number.  Yup, they were your (stereo)typical matinee people: the oldsters.

And they were my fucking heroes for the next 3 hours.  They just gushed all of these very real and fresh reactions at us.  They showed us feelings we’d forgotten to have any more, about how fabulous it was that all this crazy sparkly stuff that had been going on for ages in our heads was happening in one night, all of a sudden for them and for the characters we were supposed to be.  They laughed sincerely and showed us how funny and awkward and wonderful the love scenes were, when we had reduced them to ‘cute’ with our familiarity.  In short, they got it.  And they gave it back to us.

There’s a troubling tendency for Canadian theatres — especially very small ones or very commercial ones, or very small commercial ones — to use the age of their subscriber base as an excuse in any conversation about why they keep doing the same soft, mushy kindsa plays over and over again.  And I understand that nobody wants to give grandma a heart attack.  But I think it’s downright disrespectful to assume she can’t handle anything harder than mashed peas.

I still don’t think that having ‘marginal’ characters and ‘bad’ words makes RENT edgy theatre.  It deals with weak people in tough situations, but it also does that musical theatre thing of giving you a good take-home mantra, and no really tricky personal questions to keep you awake nights.  And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  It is what it is.  Yeah, I like crazy fucked up question theatre, but I’m also grateful for (‘edgy’ or not) fluff I can turn into nursery rhymes that make me feel like I belong to a nice collective of dorks — a soft place to land, as it were.

But I do think there is something exciting and relevant in the fact that RENT — faggots, lezzies, dykes, cross-dressers & all — can be received so warmly by an audience so clearly not conceived of as its target.

One of the many exciting things about theatre is that we get to feel unexpected things in a safe space.  We get to feel intimately connected to people whose lives don’t necessarily make any sense to us.  And I’m not sure where this idea came from that our elderly citizens are too innocent to be exposed to ‘unsavory’ (or even remotely spicy) material, but I daresay it has led us astray.

Old people can sympathize with strippers like nobody’s business.

More Life,
Emmet ❤

*Actually, 2 were matinees.  Shmutever.

**The director in question made the space what it is from the chunk of disused shoe factory it once was.  Consequently, she’s acutely aware of its many quirks and secret super awesome ninja strengths, and handles it all like the pro she is.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bill permalink
    June 11, 2010 11:52 am

    Really can’t add much to that except to say “yeah”!

    It worked its charms on all us grumpy old farts in the band too (of course you know I’m an easy target for that kind of thing)–by the end it was more than an exercise in technical challenges over in the pit.

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