I recently began reading the book Without You: a memoir of love, loss, and the musical Rent by Anthony Rapp. For those of you who don’t already know this, the author played the part of Mark in both the original workshop and Broadway production of Rent. He also revived the role in the movie adaptation years later. To be perfectly honest I usually don’t enjoy memoirs very much so I wasn’t particularly excited about reading this one but when a friend lent it to me and I found myself in a situation that required a lot of waiting and nothing else to do I opted to start it.
I’ve just finished the first chapter and have thoroughly enjoyed having an insider’s view of the early days of one of Broadway’s biggest hits. But what I am enjoying the most is Anthony’s ability to be completely vulnerable about his insecurities without being completely self deprecating all while painting a beautiful picture for his readers of life as a gay actor living in the East Village in the 90’s. In one of the most honest passages I’ve read in a long time Anthony shares one of the many commonalities he and his character, Mark have in common:
Once again, the correlation between myself and my character was remarkable: I sometimes wondered if my love of acting was an escape of sorts. I’d been doing it since I was a kid, and it felt natural to me to be onstage, inhabiting other characters’ skins and souls, but offstage I often felt like a small, pale dork. I had always been comfortable while performing, never having to battle stage fright or getting overwhelmed by nerves, whereas offstage, I often retreated into the background. I enjoyed time by myself—I especially loved to read—but while I had a lot of friends and also loved hanging out with them, I often had a low-grade anxiety, a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, of offending someone, of not being witty or sexy or cool enough, all buzzing in the background of my thoughts when I was in a social situation. My confidence grew enormously when I performed, probably because I had received nothing but flattering feedback from the first time I had set foot onstage (at the age of six, playing the Cowardly Lion at Island Lake Camp), while offstage I had often borne the brunt of teasing—from my brother, Adam, and sister, Anne, not to mention older kids all through junior high and high school. Like Mark, I hid behind my work; in my case, by transforming myself again and again into other people, funneling any of my own anxieties and fears and emotional chaos into my performances, rather than really experiencing and expressing it all offstage.
Perhaps it’s because I too share many of these same anxieties or perhaps because I love musical theatre that I found the first chapter to be so engaging but I’d like to think that it’s just because Rapp seems to write from his heart. He doesn’t write to be a great writer or to sell an exclusive point of view but simply to share with whomever is willing to take the time to read.
I am now one of those people. I’m not just willing but I’m excited to read the rest of this book and to be encouraged that someone who has been a part of such a profound production is just like the rest of us.
I’ll be traveling for a few more weeks and I’m looking for more new reading material. Do you have any recommendations for books that I should consider?