To the editors:
My, oh, my. If Justin Hayford’s article on the New York production of Rent [“Bohemian Travesty,” June 7] is any indication of the way he really feels about the American theater, I’d better stop what I’m doing right now. See, I’m actually in the process of trying to make a living in this business, but it appears that if I succeed in my endeavors, I risk feeling the wrath of Mr. Hayford–and that would be just terrible.
First of all, he begins the article with the story of his pilgrimage to New York and spends about three nauseating paragraphs waxing rhapsodic over the East Village and pining for the good old days when he was spending “many a delirious youthful summer night running with a pack of hard-core punks and drag queens”–just to let the reader know that he used to be hip. Spare me.
Next, Mr. Hayford devotes another ten paragraphs deriding the producers, investors, and creators of Rent for having the audacity to reap a profit from a piece of commercial theater. Forget the fact that he spends very little time actually talking about the contents, message, or overall theme of the show–Mr. Hayford’s aim in this piece is to point out the irony of producing a show that condemns the commercialization of his beloved bohemia while selling Rent hats in the lobby for the leering tourists and providing a safe, predictable glimpse at the homeless at $67.50 a pop (which–oh my stars!–he was forced to pay himself).
While I agree that Broadway ticket prices have long been out of control, I fail to see why the success of this production and its producers is a reason for such a violent rebuke. I have difficulty picturing Jonathan Larson and David Geffen sitting around saying, “Hey, I know how we can make a ton of cash. We’ll create a musical about drag queens, addicts, and AIDS victims and then foist it on the American public. They’ve been dying for a show like this!!!” The overwhelming success of this show is a minor miracle and I applaud the fact that finally someone with a voice for the voiceless has hit the lottery. Too bad Mr. Larson didn’t live to enjoy it.
But back to Mr. Hayford. I would love to have read what he might have said after the 1967 production of Hair moved from the Public Theater to Broadway and started making millions while providing mainstream America with a glimpse of the counterculture. Oh, the barbs he would have thrown! “The Broadway audience sits in their seats, nestled comfortably in their fur coats, while naked hippies dance about the stage preaching the merits of hallucinogens and draft-card burning. What hypocrisy! What a sellout!” Perhaps he would have suggested that the producers take a percentage of the gross and open a commune for those poor hippie folk they were so shamelessly exploiting.
I would like to remind Mr. Hayford that the producers of Rent did not go down to his sacred East Village with a bunch of bulldozers and raze the place in order to put up the theater to produce their show. No homeless were displaced, no transient hotels were forced to close, no drag queens were asked to “move along” so the limos could pull up to the curb. If anything, the triumph of this show will, I am sure, be an inspiration to many other starving artists trying to produce something meaningful and still be able to pay their . . . well, you know what I mean.
But, oh, beware, you starving artists. You’d better stay starving if you don’t want to risk the Wrath of Hayford. Because heaven forbid you actually make a buck while trying to spread your message. Just heed what (could be) Mr. Hayford’s credo–“Nothing sucks like success.”