The University of Arizona

Theater, Memory, and the HIV Crisis of the 1990s: An Analysis of the Musical RENT

Jessica Grossman


This paper discusses the memorialization of people with HIV/AIDS during the 1990s through analysis of Jonathan Larson’s 1997 Broadway show RENT. The paper underscores the ways in which memory and memorialization occurred in the events surrounding the creation of RENT, and is supplemented by musical and primary source analysis of the script and libretto. Other primary sources consulted include individual performances, anniversaries, tours, and interviews with cast, crew, and friends of the playwright. The role of Larson, the deceased playwright of RENT, is examined through the lens of memory studies. Applying Alison Landsberg’s concept of prosthetic memory to live performance art aided in addressing the role of prosthetic memory internal and external to RENT. The paper also calls attention to historiographical debates in the field of theater history.

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