Editorial: La vie bohéme

If you live in Trumbull — or anywhere in the state — you likely heard about the Thespian Society of Trumbull High School and their campaign to change the administration’s mind about a stage production of RENT this spring.

In just a week, the supporters have gained momentum and a great deal of attention. The students behind the effort have handled it with maturity and managed to keep what could become a heated debate relatively calm. (See story here).

So, why the concern? Jonathan Larson’s musical RENT is actually based on one of the most well-known operas in the world, La bohéme. RENT is about a group of friends in New York City, who are struggling financially and with the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS and drug use. The play also has homosexual characters, sexual situations and some explicit language. A school edition of the production has cleaned up some of the language and eliminated one song so it can be performed at the high school level. We understand Principal Marc Guarino — who is in the midst of his first year at Trumbull High — having concerns. Concerns are completely valid. It can be an intimidating production.

But let’s look at the upside. Our children live in a culture that often glorifies drug use and casual sex. This musical — while life-affirming and filled with positive themes — also depicts the hard consequences of poor choices. At its core, it is a play about friendship and love.

It’s interesting this issue has surfaced right around World AIDS Day, held each year on Dec. 1. This production and debate can be a good lesson and jumping off point for discussions on sexually-transmitted diseases, especially for suburban teens who can be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to a serious disease like HIV/AIDS.

Trumbull High won’t be reinventing the wheel with the school production. Towns like Amity and Greenwich have already performed RENT and did so successfully.

To gain some perspective, we can look at a musical like Grease. Many of us grew up watching it and have seen it so many times, we’ve become immune to some of the sexualized and risqué elements. But those elements are certainly there and likely shocked adults at the time, just like some will be shocked by RENT.

It’s the job of our teenagers to push boundaries and the older generation’s social mores. And sometimes, it’s the job of the adults to push back, like Principal Guarino did. However, seeing how the students have handled this campaign, as they’ve collected information, sent out surveys and talked to local media, has shown they have the maturity to tackle this production.

It would be wonderful to see a production of RENT at Trumbull High, not just because of important themes, but because we have some great young talent. At the simplest level, it's just an entertaining play with catchy songs.

Hats off to all the efforts by Trumbull students and parents.