Is There a Production of RENT with Diabetes Instead of AIDS?

A tweetstorm erupts at the rumor of such a production. We contact the licensing house that controls the rights to the play.



So, sometimes things blow up on Twitter in a big way. It was a sleepy Friday afternoon when personal finance blogger Chelsea Fagan tweeted out this:

For those who weren’t theater geeks in the nineties, RENT was a story of slumming twentysomethings trying to keep a roof over their heads in New York City during the height of the AIDS crisis. AIDS was a central part of the story, which was set during a time when the HIV virus (which causes AIDS) was considered a very short death sentence for anyone who contracted it. So try to imagine how much changing the chronic condition of the script would change the play.

At first glance, such a story seems too absurd to be true, especially since it was a story told at a bar, where true statements can be as rare as non-alcoholic drinks. But then a slew of others shared their bizarre stories of changes made to musicals for high school productions.

Others began to envision the changes that would be needed in such a script. If you are familiar with the original show, you might get these references:

Someone even photoshopped Wilford Brimley, considered a living diabetes meme for his ads for Liberty Medical, into the RENT cast:

And a few others rightly pointed out how such a change perpetuates myths about Type 1 diabetes and does a disservice to those who died during the dark days of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

It was quite a discussion, but the question remains of whether this production actually happened. We reached out to Chelsea Fagan to ask for help in tracking down this bartender. While she’s acknowledged a BroadwayWorld article about this tweet in a separate tweet, she has yet to reply to our query.

We also pinged Music Theatre International, which manages the licensing rights for RENT. Jason Cocovinis, Music Theatre International’s marketing director, responded with this emailed statement:

“We read the article in BroadwayWorld as well, but we do not have a record of this actually happening. It’s a copyright violation for any organization to change the author’s work, so hopefully this instance, whether true or not, can spark a discussion about properly using intellectual property.

As an aside, I’m also a Type-1 diabetic so I found the story both amusing and disturbing. Conflating diabetes and HIV/AIDS is inaccurate, and so would be altering the musical’s content, so this example whether true or not is wrong on many levels.”

If anyone has any more information about this mythical production of RENT, or if you have witnessed another example of a play inserting diabetes to sidestep another medical condition, please email me at cidlebrook@selfrx.com. As Cocovinis said in his statement, hopefully the fuss over this rumored production will cause others to think twice about editing in diabetes into another play.

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Craig Idlebrook is chief editor for Insulin Nation and Información Sobre Diabetes, and was founding editor for Type 2 Nation. You can reach him at cidlebrook@selfrx.com.