The Power of Memory in Art

The Power of Memory in Art

This week our long-time client Broadway Across Canada brought RENT to the Northern and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton and Calgary for a 20th Anniversary Tour. The show premiered on January 25, 1996 at New York Theatre Workshop in New York City, a rock musical about friends living in New York in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic. Based on Puccini's La Boheme, the show had an immediate impact not only for the music but its social messages.

My experience with the show started with the music. I was introduced to it in the late 90s because someone handed me the double CD and said "listen to this it will change your life" and as I experienced each track over and over I would develop an affinity for a particular song, branding it my favourite at that moment. My wife and I listened to the album while renovating our third home, reminiscing over the lyrics and what they meant to us when we were growing up.

While watching RENT again (I had seen it when Broadway Across Canada toured it through Edmonton in the early 2000s), all those memories of my time with the music came flooding back. RENT taught me about the AIDS crisis, it introduced me to minimalist musical theatre, it was the first rock musical I had experienced since Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical's greatest song, "La Vie Boheme" culturally introduced me to people and places I had never known. The show reminded me of people I knew, my BFA at UAlberta, and renovations.

Mixing some classic or recent hit theatre shows into seasons is important for audience development and retention. Art as theatre or musical theatre, well-written and presented, should have an impact, good or bad, on audiences because the experience of that memory will always be with them. Art should evoke memory.

Joshua Semchuk