It has been nearly 20 years since I last saw “Rent,” and I cried even after leaving the theater.
The ‘90s rock opera beautifully wove together the fears and hopes, tragedy and optimism held by my fellow Gen-X youth. Tears fell for a generation of gay men, artists and young people lost to AIDS after the country ignored the disease in favor of stigma and stereotypes.
In the end, it’s a story of love; measured in the 525,600 minutes in a year.
When the Fox network announced a live performance that was aired on Sunday, my theater-loving 11-year-old daughter wanted to watch. Of course, I was in.
A few things are more a time capsule, like answering machines, fashionable flannel and drag queens only living in New York City.
Still, the production didn’t disappoint with Vanessa Hudgens killing it on “Over the Moon,” captivating choreography on “La Vie Boheme” and the always wonderful “Seasons of Love.”
Age has given me a new perspective in one area: These guys need to pay rent and stop looking at job opportunities as selling out. My daughter may have heard a little lecture on that.
Even as time changes how I’ve looked on some of the story details, I still got choked up during a poignant death of a character. My daughter and I were silent until she later turned to me.
“Mom, I want to cry.”
“Go ahead and cry. That’s what art is supposed to do. Just let it all out,” I said, already ugly sobbing.
Art is meant to bring out feelings. When done well, it expresses emotions indescribable in other forms. It is challenging, and it is reassuring.
I was startled to have the same reaction to the production after two decades.
The anger was still there. The sorrow never left, either.
These characters, situations and intensity are as close now as when first experienced.
Love is there, too.
This opened up a conversation with my daughter. She asked about loved ones my husband and I have lost. She wondered about our friends, our views and our youth. She asked about AIDS; both past cultural failures and current knowledge about the disease.
Art can do that too — get people talking to each other.
It’s why the elimination of arts in schools is troubling. These are avenues for kids to explore their ever-changing passions.
That is musical theater for some. But, other students are moved by ballet, vocal music, chamber ensemble, orchestra, marching band, modern dance, painting, rock band or photography.
I’ve seen shy students transform in performance and boisterous kids get serious when seeing a complex piece of art.
Right now, 28 percent of Oklahoma public school students have no access to an arts program, according to an Oklahoma Policy Institute analysis. Overall, 18 percent of districts offer no fine arts.
Among dependent schools, only 33 percent offer elementary music.
Think of the talent lying dormant in theses places, and students who could find personal fulfillment in the arts.
Art isn’t just for entertainment. It can serve a deeper purpose to enlightenment.
For this evening with my daughter, it added to a season of love; a measure of my year.