No day but today.
This is the message of "Rent," and Scott Dunlap thinks Chattanoogans are ready to hear it.
"Our area is becoming so diverse," he said, "There's more people here than just the Bible Belt, the way that it used to be."
The intimacy of the Circle Stage, he said, lends itself to the feeling of the show, a modernization of Puccini's "La Boheme," set in Alphabet City, New York City, under the shadow of the AIDS crisis of the late '80s and early '90s.
"It's all around you," he said. "There's scaffolding out in the audience. You really feel like you're in a vacant lot."
"Rent" gained fame back in the '90s, not only for its topicality and its music, which brought Broadway to a new generation, but for the ill-timed death of 35-year-old composer Jonathan Larson, who was felled by an aortic anyeurism the night before the show's first preview.
While Dunlap had admired the show and enjoyed the music for a long time, he said the real message, the heart of "Rent," hadn't revealed itself to him until he had the opportunity to actually work on the play.
"You look at how things have changed and you look at how things have not changed," he said. "Certainly people with HIV are now living long, healthy lives. Everybody knows how to prevent it, but as a society I guess we're kind of becoming immune to it, so to speak."
And while it was not Dunlap's goal to bring AIDS activism to Chattanooga, he did seek a show that would be "thought-provoking and wonderful, as well as educational."
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through July 16.
Where: Circle Stage, Chattanooga Theatre Center, 400 River St.
Tonight: Opening-night party at 7 p.m. Showtime at 8 p.m.
Saturday: See "Rent" and stay for the after-party to watch the Riverbend fireworks from the Theatre Centre porch. Tickets $18, parking $2. Reservations strongly recommended.
" 'Rent' hits close to home," he said. "I personally don't know anyone who's died from HIV or AIDS, but I'm working with people who do. It's a nice little tap on the shoulder. It's a reminder that it is there, and we are still losing people to it. We've just become complacent. Sometimes we have to rattle the cage a little and remind people that these are issues that are in the forefront of some people's lives."
Dunlap said "Rent" is an example of how theater can demonstrate how people are fundamentally the same, across generations, and about how the same lessons can, and must, be learned over and over again.
"There are similarities in all theater," he said. "I don't have to be a Pilgrim virgin in order to see the similarities between 'The Crucible' and what happens in my everyday life as well. I think that part of the responsibility of theater is to remind people of the similarities of our stories, not the differences."
"Rent" focuses on the message of "no day but today" and on the importance of love, especially in the form of three central couples: Roger and Mimi, the tortured pair who can't seem to get in sync; Joanne and Maureen, the fighting lesbians; and Collins and Angel, the biracial, half-transgender, nauseatingly perfect couple.
"They have nothing to lose so they put everything on the line," Dunlap said. "We look at modern relationships and if things aren't going exactly how we want them to go, we become either Maureen and Joanne, or we become Roger and Mimi. To see people who say 'if things aren't exactly how I want them to be, how can I make it better in this moment, how can I keep surviving and keep loving' is a really powerful message. It's a great message everybody needs, regardless of sexual orientation or status."