Imagine – just for a moment – it’s Christmas Eve, 1989. You are a free-spirited aspiring artist living under the snowy skyline of Manhattan’s East Village. You might have a day job to support yourself, as you pursue your creative passion. You’ve got a great roommate and great friends. Things are pretty good for the most part. Then one day, your world stops spinning. The doctor delivers the news:  you are HIV positive.

Unfortunately, this story was and is not uncommon. More than 1.2 million people are infected with HIV in the United States today. The disease not only ravages a person, but their loved ones around them. Playwright Jonathan Larson watched as three of his closest friends fell victim to HIV’s interminable wrath. Working closely with playwright Billy Aronson, and taking great inspiration from the Puccini operetta La Bohème, Larson labored to share the stories of disenfranchised New Yorkers living under the cloud of the AIDS epidemic. He did so in a way that was engaging, revealing, and educational:  he created the musical Rent.

In 2015, celebrations and revivals begin to mark the 20th anniversary of Rent’s premiere. This landmark anniversary is an occasion to reflect on the strides that have been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and to recognize work that still remains to be done. Activists are still working to destigmatize people living with the disease, and to encourage ongoing awareness of it. In September 2015, more than 10,000 people amassed in Portland, OR to participate in the city’s annual AIDS Walk. In Chicago, hundreds of activists gathered to fight for people living with HIV/AIDS to know their rights in hopes of eliminating discrimination in the workplace. In California, legislators announced a new plan to modernize the way sex education is taught in high schools, covering “Yes Means Yes,” violence, relationships, and sexually transmitted diseases with greater depth and knowledge. Today, Chapman has the opportunity to follow suit. It is the Department of Theatre’s greatest wish to inspire a conversation in our community; a conversation rooted in the love and acceptance that permeates Rent.

When many people think of Rent, the song “Seasons Of Love” immediately comes to mind. But perhaps what sticks in our heads, even more than a catchy tune, is the impact of the lyrics. As you watch the show, listen to the words. How do you measure your life? Take note. Recognize its fragility, its triumphs, and its curveballs. And most importantly, have a chat. Engage. Inform. Share with one another. After all, “It’s time now to sing out, but the story never ends…”

Tickets are on sale now for Chapman University’s production of the rock musical Rent by Jonathan Larson, directed by alumnus Matthew McCray (BFA Theatre Performance ’98); October 1-3 and 8-10 in Waltmar Theatre. To purchase, visit or call (714) 997-6624.

This article was written by Department of Theatre student and dramaturg Caroline Hale (BA Theatre Studies ’17), with support from dramaturgy mentor Dr. Jocelyn L. Buckner.