RENT-ing AIDS Walk

Around ASF Blog
Volume 1 / Entry 11
April 20, 2012

Hello friends,

Please excuse me this week as I highlight something that is as near and dear to my heart as is HIV and AIDS. It’s musical theater! This particular piece of musical theater, however, combines both.

Jonathan Larson’s RENT is currently being presented by Saddleback College. The reason I mention this is that staff associated with the show contacted ASF about a collection they planned after every performance. They wanted to collect money for a local HIV and AIDS cause. They selected us and AIDS Walk. The contributions collected during the run of the show will be added to the funds Team ASF raises for AIDS Walk.

I think most people know that RENT is a retelling of the Puccini opera La Bohéme, with the deadly killer tuberculosis (referred to as consumption in the opera) being replaced by AIDS. Having studied voice in college and played the role of the painter Marcello (changed to Marc, a filmmaker in RENT) in Bohéme, both of these works have a dear place in my heart.

RENT is special to me because of the character Angel. Angel’s energy, strength, kindness, joy of life and even physical stature completely remind me of one of the only two people close to me who have succumbed to AIDS. His name was Danny. Everything I do regarding HIV and AIDS, I do in his memory and to honor is all-too-short life.

I knew him when I lived in Chicago in the very early ‘90s. We joined the Windy City Gay Chorus at the same time and were in the same section. Naturally, being the two new guys in the Tenor 2 section, we were drawn to each other. We became fast friends, seeing each other weekly at rehearsals and frequently having dinner together.

About 2 or 3 months after our acceptance into the group, the entire chorus went on an intense, 3-day, out-of-town musical retreat. We sang all day and fraternized during the evenings. It was a great team-building exercise for the chorus. Through it, we became a family. Danny was now my brother. But that retreat would bring us even closer.

One morning, Danny revealed to a select few of us enjoying breakfast together, in casual conversation, that he was HIV positive. I was startled, not by the revelation itself, but by the amount of courage Danny displayed in this matter-of-fact declaration during a time in which HIV was still not spoken of. Despite his apparent strength, I now wanted to protect him like a big brother would. I worried about him often in the few years that I knew him.

Danny’s physical strength began to wane, though his mental strength never did. He was eventually forced by his parents to leave the chorus and Chicago and move back to his childhood home in central Illinois. It was the only option he had for care.

While he was away from the chorus, Danny’s health deteriorated quickly. The last time I saw him he had come back to Chicago against his parents’ wishes, knowing full well that he didn’t have much longer, to say goodbye. I remember seeing the joy on his face as he listened to us rehearse. And I remember how frail his body felt as I hugged him goodbye for the last time.

When we found out about his death, I was moved to tears. I still am whenever I am reminded of his beautiful soul. In RENT, Angel is that soul.

So, if you want to see a beautiful piece of theater that highlights an earlier period in the history of AIDS in America, or if you want to meet my friend Danny, go see one of the final three performances of RENT at Saddleback College this weekend. If you do go, please consider donating to AIDS Walk when you leave the theater!

For more information on RENT, please click here.

Thanks for reading!

Marc Montminy
Director of Communications and Public Relations

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