Last Saturday I hopped on the Red Line to Hollywood and Vine, picked up a single ticket from the box office will-call booth, and entered the Pantages Theater to see the Broadway tour of “Rent.” As I tapped my feet and sang along with the notably young, enthusiastic crowd, it struck me how much differently I must encounter this musical than audience members of the past. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show or film, Rent chronicles a year in the life of friends—a group of New York City young adults (mostly artists)—who struggle to get by as they wrestle with the reality of HIV/AIDS, sexual identity, drug use, gentrification, and vocation in their community. Since its premiere in 1996, much of Rent’s popularity has stemmed from its brilliant treatment of the most relevant issues of the day. Its original audiences were the same folks whose most formative adult years were shaped by the HIV/AIDS crisis and its subsequent impact on perceptions of sexuality and drugs. Consequently, Rent was their musical, their story.
For as much as Rent touched me, I am aware that it does not belong to me in the same way that it belongs to generation before me. Having never known a world free of HIV/AIDS, I take the harsh reality of this devastating disease for granted in a way Rent’s characters—and its first audiences—could not. While any number of the issues that fill Rent’s controversial plotline still significantly impact my life and community, they affect my life as a young adult in different ways than the 20- and 30-somethings of the past. My generation’s relationship to these issues has changed. They play a different role in our generational identity.
As I pondered this from my red cushioned theater seat, I recalled a recent blog post by Kate Dugan concerning “Post-post-Vatican II Catholics.” Prompted by an NCR article on the topic, Kate asked, “What happens when no one remembers a pre-Vatican II church anymore?” In other words, what happens as our relationship to Vatican II changes? How will our communal identity shift as more and more of us take the consequences of Vatican II for granted?
In the same way that Rent has challenged me to consider my generation’s unique relationship to HIV/AIDS, sexuality, drugs, gentrification, and vocation, Kate’s post has challenged me to consider my—and our—relationship to Vatican II. As writers and readers in a blog community whose organizational affiliation is directly linked to Vatican II and its ideals, it seems especially pertinent to ask ourselves, “How do we encounter Vatican II and its principals in a different way than generations past? How will this unique perspective shape our identity and action?”
One of Rent’s anthems proclaims, “No day but today.” In the context of the show, the song seems to call upon the musical’s young adults to take account of the past while focusing on the realities of today. I think that’s a great challenge: No day but today.
Jessica Coblentz recently graduated from Santa Clara University where she majored in Religious Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies. She now resides in Los Angeles where she splits her time between work in young adult ministry, and campus ministry at a local Catholic women’s college. In her free time she loves to cook, read, play in the sunshine, write, travel, and drink really good lattes.