‘Rent’-ing apart traditional theatre

During my time at university I have been told that in the arts sector marketers should not interfere with the creative process. Instead they should take on the role of finding the audience that the show, artwork or composition appeals to and the artist should be left alone to create their work.

To be honest, I have never been a fan of convention . . .


Yesterday I started reading the companion book to the musical RENT. This book details the whole process from conception of the idea for the musical through work-shopping, auditions and off-Broadway tryouts until the opening of the musical on Broadway. However, rather than presenting a dry account of this development, the story is told through a number of interviews woven together in an enlightened and moving manner.

But even more importantly they tell the story of the importance of considering marketing from the beginning of the creative process.

Jonathan Larson, the composer and lyricist of RENT, started this project with one goal in mind: To create a piece of theatre that would appeal to younger generations between the ages of 20 and 40.

Noticing the lack of material that appealed to this demographic, Larson set out on a long journey which resulted in a musical that dealt with topical issues of relevance to this generation accompanied by appealing contemporary music.

Whether or not he was aware of his marketing genius, Larson was constantly focussed on creating a product which appealed to the market he decided to target. And while it did not hinder his creativity, it certainly helped when it came to encouraging ticket buyers.

As a result of his consideration of the customer in addition to his creativity, RENT managed to run on Broadway for 12 years and achieve a massive 5,123 performances. A run that would make any production envious.

So what can we learn from Jonathan Larson? It is important to consider your audience before you create a masterpiece. It is all well and good to create a beautiful and moving painting, composition or musical, but if nobody comes to see it because it doesn’t appeal to any audience then is it really doing its job?

Unfortunately for the immensely talented creator of RENT, he did not live to see his genius open on Broadway as he passed away on the night before the first preview. It is a real shame for the theatre world to lose someone so innovative and talented (and a natural marketer).

So follow Jonathan’s lead, if you are going to create something, make sure you create it with the audience you want to reach in mind. If nothing else it will only make the work more memorable and more appealing. Besides, who wants to be conventional anyway?

What do you think? Was my university lecturer right in saying that marketing should not interfere with the creative process or should we follow the guide of Jonathan Larson? Let me know in the comments section below!