In preparation for the RENT Sing-Along, we’ve revisited the origins of this rock opera sensation.
RENT had its first staged reading at the New York Theatre Workshop in March 1993, and three years later the show opened there, quickly gaining critical and word-of-mouth acclaim from New Yorkers – and the rest of the world. The show got so big it had to move to Broadway in the previously derelict Nederlander Theater on 41st Street three years later. Theatre critic for The New York Times Ben Brantley wrote one of the first national reviews saying it was “an exhilarating, landmark rock opera [with a] glittering, inventive score [that] shimmers with hope for the future of the American musical.”
Well, Austin, the future is here! The first version of RENT staged and produced entirely in Austin, with local Austin artists, ZACH Theatre’s current production has been buzzing with an eerie similarity to its debut at the New York Theatre Workshop. The Austin Chronicle has called it “A Broadway-quality staging of the popular rock musical with energy to spare!” (Read more.)
One of the biggest innovations of RENT when it first premiered was its appeal to young people. That appeal roped in a whole new generation of theatre goers, and for the first time in history $20 tickets were offered to young people to see a show.
We’re repeating that here at ZACH with $20 advance ticket sales for students through our box office, and we’re doing one better: as always, ZACH offers $15 walk-up tickets for students one hour before show time.
These offers are turning every night of RENT into a cross-generational “club-like environment” according to The Chronicle, but to us it’s just a heck of a good time with one heck of an important message. Family is what you make of it, says RENT Director Dave Steakley, who formed the season as ZACH’s Producing Artistic Director with the role of family in modern American life at its core.
The rock opera RENT is about “family of choice,” he says. For us, the Austin artists, musicians, technicians, students, actors, designers, writers, choreographers and more are a family that we’ve worked hard to create at ZACH. Everyone is welcome at the theatre, and kicking off the season with RENT drives this message home for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by ZACH Theatre productions and outreach each year.
In fact, Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, is returning to ZACH this season to direct her newest play THE BOOK OF GRACE, about a border-town family of a whole different sort.
And right after RENT closes, in just three short weeks, she’ll be coming to ZACH to host her innovative “Watch Me Work” series, which is a performance piece where she works for an hour writing on stage and asks the whole community – artists of many different persuasions – to join her in tandem.
At the end of the hour, a timer goes off and she invites the artists who worked in the studio with her to discuss their work. It’s an opportunity to experience performance art and become part of the performance, plus a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a Pulitzer Prize winner talk to you about your work for fifteen minutes at the end of the hour. This is true innovation, and when Dave Steakley talked to Suzan-Lori Parks about this opportunity, she was completely plussed that it would follow the close of RENT, though disappointed her teaching schedule at NYU prevented her from getting a chance to see ZACH’s production of RENT. Suzan-Lori lived in Alphabet City in New York for ten years during the era that RENT encapsulates.
Needless to say, RENT is captivating Austin audiences in parallel fashion to its original appeal in New York City at the turn of the millennium. At the New York Theatre Workshop, the rock opera was so popular that some even compared it to HAIR, saying it was “a HAIR for the 90s.”
ZACH’s RENT is “a powerhouse performance from a cast of local Austin artists” according to Michael Meigs at AustinLiveTheatre.com. (Read more.)
AustinOnStage.com agrees: “ZACH Theatre’s production can now be added to the list of what made the show so special in the first place!” (Read more.)
Join our community for this cross-generational rock opera phenomenon. Call or click: (512) 476-0541, x1 or www.zachtheatre.org.