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Movie Review: Paying the Rent

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Rent is the first Broadway-musical-turned-Oscar-hopeful slated for the end of the awards season to hit the theaters this year. Winner of the Pulitzer and a handful of Tonys

The cast is primarily the original Broadway ensemble (Tracie Thoms is new as Joanna and Rosario Dawson who did play Mimi on stage, but replaced Daphne Rubin-Vega who was pregnant) only problem that brings is that the actors are nine years older than when the show premiered so Rosario Dawson at 26 is playing teenaged Mimi. That and I didn’t buy Anthony Rapp or Adam Pascal as straight men. Although, as it turns out Adam Pascal is not only married to a woman but has a child as well.

The musical is a phenomenal accomplishment that will forever stand as a testament to the dedication and talent of Jonathan Larson. Most “Major” musicals that have become part of America’s cultural lexicon have been written by teams; Rogers and Hammerstine, the Gershwin Brothers, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I think people team up because it’s such a daunting task to write a story and put it to music. It’s been my experience that you only get so much talent, and if you’re super good at one thing you tend not to be so good at another.

Larson wrote every note of Rent in a year’s time. He had already written a half dozen musicals and the closest he ever got to a hit was tick tick… BOOM. According to urban legend Larson was a gay man who died of AIDS. Actually he was a straight man who is believed to have died as result of complications of Marfam Syndrome before Rent’s opening night.

Since watching the show on Saturday night I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative process. Rent makes great business out of living the live Boheme. At one point in the title song Roger and Mark ask themselves why they choose to live this way. It raises the question, is sacrifice important to art?

Dee Smith of Twisted Sister relates the story of sitting by the pool behind his million dollar home and trying to write the next teen angst anthem and failing. The result was “Be Cruel to Your School.”

Hemmingway and Poe were self destructive alcoholics. Truman Capote and Phillip K. Dick both did a lot of drugs that shortened their lives. Hawthorne lost his mind. J.K. Rowling was dirt poor. Emily Dickinson lived an emotionally unfilled live and Shakespeare was likely a tormented bi-sexual.

So many authors that have had great strife in their life went on to create beautiful and lasting works of fiction. Of the three-top sell authors of the last decade Michael Crichton and John Gresham both had six-figure incomes only Stephen King had to struggle, and I think he is the only one of the three that will have some of his work stand the test of 100 years.

Last year I ended February with $19 in the bank and $10 in my wallet. I was dirt poor, but I got a lot of work done on my book, possibly the best work done on my book. Going forward is I have this secure corporate job that makes me financially content.

I have an opportunity to move to New York where all things creative grow, but I don’t think the timing is right. Am I being making the right decision for my financial future, or the wrong decision for my creative future.

The feeling of contentment writing checks as bills come in is so rewarding. I don’t have to live in fear of an $30 overdraft fee anymore. It’s rewarding, but is it too rewarding.

My future doesn’t depend on my writing any more and that scares me. When I was waiting tables I knew the only thing that would ever get me out of that was my book, and now my book is second to my job, my nice corporate job with benefits.

The question is will my security hurt my creativity.

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About Eric James