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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

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No regerts: The beautiful mess that is ‘Rent’

“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss / No other road, no other way / No day but today.”

— Jonathan Larson, “No Day But Today” from “Rent”

It’s high time I delve into the realm of musical theater, and what better way to start than with “Rent”? This exuberant musical celebrates life amid the challenges of poverty and AIDS. In one of the show’s earliest reviews, the New York Times noted that its “spirited score and lyrics defy [death],” and its characters possess a “transfixing brightness.” Furthermore, the show is often considered one of the best stage musicals of all time, and it is one of my personal favorites.

Despite its acclaim as one of the greatest stage musicals, “Rent” is, paradoxically, a masterpiece woven with imperfections.

The timeline falls apart under any scrutiny. The first act is dizzying while the second act drags. The miraculous happy ending is a poorly-written cop out at best. One might wonder how such an objective mess even got on a Broadway stage, let alone became a cultural classic. 

Crucial to understanding the show’s slightly chaotic state is the fact it is essentially unfinished. The show’s creator, Jonathon Larson, suddenly died before its first performance at a theater workshop, meaning it never experienced any revisions or edits before making the move to Broadway. It’s a work frozen in time, for better or worse. Although Larson didn’t die from AIDS, his tragic and unexpected death only added to the show’s essence. The remaining flaws became a part of the show’s message. Its raw, unfiltered celebration of life stands as an even more poignant reflection of one’s duty to make something beautiful out of persistent chaos.

As a former theater kid, I’ve always wondered how Larson would have felt knowing that what was supposed to be an early draft of his beloved musical ended up becoming the final product. I imagine he’d first cringe at the thought. But then, upon learning of “Rent’s” immense success, I think he would come to accept what many lovers of “Rent” already know. The show is a hot mess, but it is still absolutely beautiful. “Rent” is fundamentally imperfect, and it is those imperfections that make the show what it is. 

Amid my musings on “Rent,” I am also reminded of my own quirks. Fun fact about me: I have no tattoos, nor do I have a desire to get any tattoos in the foreseeable future. However, I do have a Notes app page detailing a short list of tattoos I would get, should the impulse ever arise. One of my favorites on the list? Two words:

"No regerts"

No, that is not a typo.

As I have alluded to in previous columns, I am a bit of a perfectionist. This trait, while valuable in some aspects of life, often becomes a barrier to embracing the moment and the imperfect beauty it may hold. “No regerts” serves as a playful reminder to embrace life without worrying about the burden of perfection. What better way to remind myself to be comfortable with the occasional error than a permanent misspelling on my ankle, shoulder or whatnot?

To calm my parents down, who are likely clutching their pearls at this point, I would like to clarify that the odds of me getting this tattoo are slim to none. But if I did, the world would not shatter. The action would simply become a silly little part of my story, in the same way all of my actions, decisions and experiences — for better or worse — are part of my story. 

In the same way “Rent” is an iconic work because of its strengths as well as its flaws, we are all wonderful and, dare I say, iconic human beings because of our successes as well as our failures. Our stories are not defined by flawlessness but by how we navigate our imperfections.

Now, it’s easy to remind ourselves of our perfectly imperfect natures when reflecting on past actions. But what about the decisions you’re making right now?

I’m in the spring semester of my senior year. In a couple of months, Notre Dame is going to eject me from its warm, safe, familiar embrace. For the first time in my life, I have to make decisions about my future without the guidance of a clear academic track. It’s terrifying. At times, it’s hard not to be paralyzed with indecision because I am so afraid of taking the wrong step.

Here’s the thing though: Mistakes are inevitable. They are the stitches in the fabric of our lives, adding depth and color to our stories. There is nothing I can do to ensure I live the perfect dream life, and if I live in fear of messing up, I would live a life of inaction which wouldn’t be a real life at all. The best I can do is be true to myself, diligent in pursuing my dreams and intentional with every step I take. If these lead to errors down the line, then I encourage my future self to open my arms to accept any less-than-ideal experiences as part of my story. My vibrance, my strength, my creativity — my essence is a product of not only having the courage to make mistakes but the resilience to push through them. 

“Rent” serves as a mirror to our existence — beautifully flawed, vibrantly chaotic and deeply meaningful. We are all, in essence, living our own versions of “Rent”: perfectly imperfect narratives which are iconic not despite but because of our flaws. As we move forward, let us do so with the courage to embrace our imperfections, knowing that in the grand tapestry of life, each thread, no matter how tangled, adds to the richness of our story.

In other words, I urge you to live and let live, my loves. Because, in the words of “Rent,” there is no day but today.

Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media, or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.