The following article originally appeared in “Behind the Scenes” – the official Newsletter of Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS…
“Seasons of Love,” Jonathan Larson’s unforgettable anthem from his groundbreaking musical Rent, has helped more than $21,000 worth of love flow to thousands affected by HIV/AIDS over the last year, thanks to the generosity, creativity and tenacity of college, high school and amateur groups across the country.
Music Theatre International, which licenses Rent and its high school version, Rent: School Edition, includes information about Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in the show’s licensing packages and promotes fundraising campaigns. The productions are encouraged to coordinate campaigns to engage their audiences in one of the show’s messages, that AIDS affects us all. Fifteen years after the show’s Broadway debut, AIDS remains an on-going health crisis, exacerbated still by a lack of resources and stigma. In the process, casts and crews are becoming more involved in the fight. For Charlie Polinger, a member of the student-run Yale Dramatic Association, Rent connected the college students to the impact of AIDS.
“We had all grown up on Rent’s music, so we were excited to do it at Yale,” Polinger said. “We were always aware of the disease in terms of statistics, but we became emotionally engaged in the iconic story told in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. We started understanding that this is a real issue and there are real people facing this every day. It was very emotional for us to realize that we have to face this now, not see it as just historical. It’s what needs to be done now.”
University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music director Richard Hess inspired his students to raise more than $6,000 for Broadway Cares during their spring production. “We set a goal of raising $100 a night during our 10-show run,” Hess said. “Much to our delight, we raised more than $500 a show! Our students have taken to the cause and to activism in new ways. This has been such an educational experience. I brought in some friends who are HIV-positive, in many cases the first time members of this cast had ever met someone open about his or her HIV status. I also brought in a panel of the AIDS Quilt to hang on the wall. This show has helped us get connected to the fight against AIDS. Rent is such a gift.”
Schools are creative when it comes to using Rent as an opportunity to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. At chARTer~TECH High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point, NJ, director Brian McGuire brought in original Broadway cast member Rodney Hicks to inspire his cast. In turn, they inspired their audiences to help them raise more than $1,100.
“It’s a rare opportunity to bring real-life lessons and community service concepts to our school musical,” McGuire said. “The generosity of Broadway Cares in supplying us red ribbons and Rent memorabilia was instrumental in helping us to raise funds and inspired our students to learn more about your mission.”
The world premiere of Rent: School Edition, in which the song “Contact” is cut as well as some more harsh language, was presented as a benefit for Broadway Cares last year by director Lou Volpe at Truman Senior High School in Levittown, PA. Since that premiere, Rent has inspired fundraising and benefits from central Vermont to Kenosha, WI.
Special thanks to MTI and the Larson Family Foundation for joining forces with Rent performances around the country to make a difference. In Larson’s own words: “No other road / No other way / No day but today.”