Postscript, July 11. So we went to the opening of Rent in Tullahoma last night. It was a big and exuberant show, with some very strong performances, especially the female leads. Afterwards, there were tears and hugs afterward, all very moving. I didn’t see any protests, unless the two old guys with an American flag sitting out front were protesting somehow, though I think there had been a prayer vigil earlier in front of the theater. What we did see on our way to Tullahoma down 41 A through Decherd and Estill Springs were lots and lots of pick-up trucks flying Confederate flags, including a motorcade of eight or so with a sign that said, “It’s a Southern thang!”–an apparent protest against yesterday’s permanent lowering of the Confederate flag at the state house in South Carolina.
I will say that Rent has “mature” themes, inappropriate for children perhaps but more than appropriate for teens for whom the issues are far engaging than those of Peter Pan or Oliver. We had to sign our children in, and show our own IDs. In any event, I realize now that I had never seen a same-sex kiss on stage ever before. There was a talk-back afterward, but, it being close to 11 pm at that point, we hit the road and had a great conversation with the boys in the car on the way back.
Rent is a more serious show than La Boheme, which it follows closely in fact, and a surprisingly more touching one. Puccini was not engaging with any issues in his opera, and the bohemian atmosphere was meant to be little more than exotic and risqué. Rent asks us to look at people whose lifestyles are different than our own, or perhaps not so different, and consider them in their humanity nevertheless. I’m sorry some local pastors failed to see this as an opportunity for conversation rather than confrontation. But I understand it’s been a mind-boggling summer, and with the election season coming on us, I imagine the country will be reeling until next summer. Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, How do you measure, measure a year?
Older posts on this topic:
July 3. A friend of mine who teaches high school in Tullahoma sent some of us the following note a few days ago: “Hey folks! The big city of Tullahoma has quite a controversy at the moment, with Rent about to open at The Community Playhouse. Apparently, one of the local Baptist ministers has decided to start a campaign, asking people to boycott the show because of its “low morals.” I have several former students in the cast, and they could use some support if any of you feel like a night of entertainment in a couple of weeks.” The show opens on Friday, July 10 at 8:00 pm at the South Jackson Civic Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I have not seen the play, a modernized version of Puccini’s La Boheme (which I will be seeing in a few weeks in Rome), but after I saw the photo of the notice from the local church, I instantly went on-line and bought four front-row tickets for opening night.
I have to say, I’m glad I did get my tickets, because the production and the protests are starting to become news. Donna posted a notice from Howard Sherman, an arts administator and theatre advocate based in New York, entitled “Preparing For Anti-“Rent” Messages From Tennessee Pulpits.” Sherman reproduces some of his e-mail communication with local pastors and concludes with the following spirited defense, “Rent may have, to some, a squalid setting, but is about struggle, friendship, community, equality, love, sacrifice, life and death, and even redemption. Those seem like themes worth exploring and embracing in every city and town, every day, in places of worship, in theatres and beyond.” It’s hard not to see the animosity to the show as a sort of proxy battle about the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriages, of course. Reaction all over the South has been hostile to the ruling–the entire staff of the clerk’s office in Decatur County in west Tennessee resigned over it. “Clerk Gwen Pope and employees Sharon Bell and Mickey Butler all said their resignations was due to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriages,” WTVC reported yesterday. According to the Jackson Sun: “It’s kind of sort of like you don’t want to draw attention to yourself for any reason,” Pope said. “That’s not why we’re doing this. Not doing it in any way to draw attention to us. It’s for the glory of God. He’s going to get all the glory.” Drew Baker, area representative for the Tennessee Equality Project thought it was unfortuntate. “That’s also against the law.” he said. “They’re opening themselves up to litigation. However, I admire them for the strength of their convictions.” The other day, I likened Bree Newsome–the woman who climbed the pole in Columbia, SC, to remove the Confederate flag–to Antigone for invoking religion in her act of defiance; the same comparison must be made for the former Decatur County clerks. Where the ruckus goes from here, over Rent and the Confederate flag and gay marriage, will be interesting to watch. As I say, I have a front-row seat for some of it.
Postscript, July 6th. HuffPo is now on the Tullahoma “Rent” controversy, with this fine story: “RENT in Twain: Division in a Small Town”. Among many worthwhile insights:
“We fought for this to be a PACT production for a reason. You know, people have come to us with some concerns about the show, and it’s always couched in a ‘concern for children and teens.’ I will say that I don’t think this play is for children, but I can look at the cast and see character counterparts.” Allen points to imaginary people standing around him, “There’s our Collins, there’s our desperately in love person, there’s our abused person, our person struggling with an eating disorder, our transgendered person, our person struggling with sexuality. So, for people to say, ‘your life is so disgusting and immoral that it shouldn’t exist onstage,’ is a huge slap in the face to them. These teens need their lives validated.”
And some comments from cast members:
“I’ve lost contact with three family members because of the Supreme Court ruling and their stance on gay marriage.” “My people disowned me because I’m gay–right as I started the RENT process.” “I was called a bitch because of believing in what I’ m doing. I was completely shocked to get that message from someone I rarely even talked to.” “I lived for six months in my car. I went to work, and I lived in my car.” A glance at the show’s director reveals him nodding and making eye contact in a way that seems to say, “See? I told you, These kids need this show. They’ve already lived it.”