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Rent Digital Study Guide.





Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Thom Allison
Choreographed by Marc Kimelman

House Program for Rent

Grade Recommendation Grade 9+

Content Advisory

Please see the show page for a detailed audience advisory.


When Jonathan Larson's genre-bending musical debuted on Broadway in 1996, it redefined the genre for a new generation of audiences. Considered to be the first live rock opera, Rent won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony for Best Musical. Its 12-year run was one of the longest in Broadway history, and it has since been adapted to the big screen and performed worldwide in over 25 languages. 

Inspired by Puccini's 1896 opera La Bohème, Rent focuses on a group of young East Village artists, performers and philosophers as they struggle through the hardships of poverty, societal discord and the AIDS epidemic. Loft-mates Mark, a struggling filmmaker, and rockstar wannabe Roger who is HIV-positive are facing a Christmas without electricity after they fail to make the rent. Over the next year, Mark, Roger and their fellow artists chase their dreams while trying to keep the lights on. 

Rent's innovative blend of pop music and breakneck pacing, coupled with its bold exploration of social taboos and contemporary issues, helped to bridge the gap between the traditional Broadway musical and younger generations. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the smash musical Hamilton, became obsessed with Rent after watching the film adaptation and cites Jonathan Larson as an essential influence on all of his work. Like many young people at the time, Miranda was blown away by Rent's ground-breaking depiction of underrepresented and marginalized 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, members of the global majority, immigrants and those living in poverty. Those representations matter more than ever. So do the characters' anxieties about pandemics, skyrocketing rents and financial insecurity.

Shortly before his tragic and untimely death at age 35-on the very day of Rent's off-Broadway premiere-Jonathan Larson shared his hopes for the play with a journalist. "In these dangerous times," he said, "where it seems that the world is ripping apart at the seams, we all can learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and should reach out to each other and bond as a community." With a song list that includes the iconic "Seasons of Love," Rent tells a story as relevant today as when it took Broadway by storm.

Curriculum Connections

  • Global Competencies:
    • Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Metacognition, Self-Awareness
  • Grade 9-12
    • The Arts (Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Arts)
    • Canadian and World Studies
    • English
  • Grades 11-12
    • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • 2SLGBTQIA+ Love and Life
  • Art as Resistance
  • Chosen Family
  • Death, Dignity and Dying
  • East Village, New York City in the 1990s
  • Gentrification
  • Home, Being Unhoused and the Housing Crisis
  • Living Life to the Fullest
  • Mental Health
  • Performance Art
  • Poverty
  • Recovery
  • Resilience
  • Substance Use Disorder and Addiction





  • How would you define love? How would you define unconditional love? What does it mean to love someone unconditionally?
  • What do you already know about HIV/AIDS? What questions do you have about HIV/AIDS?
  • What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? Think of a situation when you experienced sympathy, empathy or both. Do you think one is preferable to the other? Why or why not? 
  • Why do people create art (i.e. visual art, theatre, music, dance, etc.)?
  • In what ways can art make us feel less alone?
  • Do you think social media can cause isolation or can it keep people from being isolated? What makes you think that?
  • Do you find it easier to stand up for yourself or to stand up for others? What are some actions that you have taken to stand up for yourself or others?
  • Have you ever judged the choices of others? Have you ever felt judged by others based on the choices you made? How did it make you feel?
  • What is stigma? How can we combat it?
  • "Intersectionality", according to Kimberlé Crenshaw, "is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It's not simply that there's a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things." (2017 Interview, Columbia Law School) Do you think it is important to consider these as interconnected? Why or why not?
  • Does social change happen slowly or quickly? Explain your thinking.


  • What were your first impressions of the space that the designers created?
  • How does the show portray the importance of art and creativity in the characters' lives? What role do art and creativity play in helping the characters to cope with difficult circumstances?
  • How does the show depict the impact of HIV/AIDS on the lives of the characters?
  • How do the characters cope with the challenges and stigma associated with the disease? In what ways are their experiences similar or different to the experience of folks living with HIV/AIDS today?
  • In what ways have representations of 2SLGBTQIA+ people changed since this show debuted? What do you think still needs to change?
  • What role do love and relationships play in the show? How do the different types of love depicted in the show (i.e., romantic, platonic, familial) impact the characters and their choices?
  • How do power and privilege differently impact the characters' journeys in the play? What are three concrete steps that you could take in your community to contribute to addressing issues facing your community?
  • What did you find most meaningful about the show? Why?
  • What is the role of community in the show? How do the characters support each other and navigate the challenges they face together?
  • How does the show depict gentrification and its impact on communities? What are the different perspectives on gentrification that are depicted in the show?
  • Are there any unintentional harms that might be caused through the production of this play? If so, what are they and what might be done to take care of the artists and audience members participating in the work?
  • What are you taking away from your experience of seeing the show?


Objective: Students will critically respond to the title song of "Rent" as an introduction to the production. 

Materials: "Rent" track, speaker, copies of lyrics or sheet music for "Rent", writing utensils, black/whiteboard and chalk/markers.


  1. Introduce the song as the title song of Rent which sets the scene for the musical.
  2. Play the track and encourage students to listen for what strikes them. How do the music and lyrics work together to create an emotional impact? Encourage students to listen in whatever way works best for them. (i.e., with eyes closed, while writing notes, while circling on the handout, etc.) 
  3. As a large group, ask students: "What did you notice?" Ask students to describe what they hear without judgment using descriptive terms. Invite them to offer descriptions without making judgments about the quality of the work and without offering personal preferences. If judgment arises, ask for evidence on which the judgment is based: "What did you hear that made you say that?" Make note of all of the things students notice.
  4. Next, ask students: "What does it bring up for you?" Let students know that the intent is for them to connect what they heard to their own lives, responding with any felling, memory, experience, image, music that the song brings up.
  5. Play the track again and encourage student to think about the intent and meaning of the song.
  6. Ask students: "What do you wonder?" Let students know that the intent is for them to express their curiosity about the song and any questions or ideas it raises for them.
  7. Invite students to get into groups of two or three and respond together to the question: "What do you speculate?" What do they think was the librettist's intent?
  8. Bring the class together once again and have groups share one key takeaway.

Possible Extensions:

  • Character Clues: The title song presents a snapshot of many of the characters in the musical. In groups, they will select one of the characters in this song. Write down all the facts that the lyrics reveal about their chosen character from what they sing or what others sing about them.
  • New York City in the 1990s: (Additional materials: Photos by Grégoire Alessandrini, pre-selected for the class by the teacher) The title song paints a vivid picture of the characters' world. Have students look at images of New York in the 1990s. Then have them scan the lyrics.  
    • What do the lyrics of the son "Rent" tell us about the circumstances of the characters?
    • Which phrases stand out as being particularly evocative?
    • Which lyrics connect to which images and why?

 Debriefing Questions:

  • What did other groups' takeaways bring up for you?
  • What do you still wonder about?
  • How does the song reflect the social issues and political climate of the time?
  • What aspects of the song feel particularly meaningful to you?
  • Listen to the Spotify playlist curated by Thom Allison. What clues does this give you about the production? 


In 1992, company members of the Stratford Festival started A Night for Life: a fundraising evening of pro-bono dance performances meant to pay tribute to fellow company members who had died, some of AIDS-related causes. Proceeds from the performance were given to three charitable organizations including Equity Fights Aids. Today, the Stratford Festival continues to support fundraising performances and other community and social justice initiatives. 

For the 2023 production of Rent, a version of/tribute to the AIDS quilt will be seen on stage. This quilt is a unique prop in that it is also a real memorial featuring names of loved ones lost by the Stratford Festival community to the AIDS epidemic. You can learn more about the history of quilts and the AIDS epidemic here and here.


Poster for A Night for Life, 1992

Poster for A Night for Life, 1992. Hosted by the Stratford Festival. Presented at the Avon Theatre. Artwork by Martin Murphy. Stratford Festival Archives, Performance Poster Collection.


The Stratford Festival's Archives maintains, conserves and protects records about the Festival and makes those materials available to people around the world. Their collection contains material ranging from 1952 right up to the present and includes administrative documents, production records, photographs, design artwork, scores, audio-visual recordings, promotional materials, costumes, props, set decorations and much more. These materials are collected and preserved with the aim of documenting the history of the Festival, preserving the page-to-stage process, and capturing the creative processes involved in numerous other activities that contribute to the Festival each season.



House Program - Rent
Study Guide PDF - Rent

Study Guides

View past Study Guides and Study Guides for all 2023 plays, available free of charge on our website .


AIDS Committee Toronto (ACT)

AIDS Activist History Project

The ArQuives: Canada's LGBTQ2+ Archives

Casey House

Critical Response Protocol (Perpich Center for the Arts Education)


Open Closet (2SLGBTQ+ Social Support Group for Youth 14 to 18-year old in Perth, Huron, Lambton, Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties) 

Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later (8 June 2017, Columbia Law School)

Photo Gallery | New York in the 1990s (Grégoire Alessandrini)

#Pride365: Disability Justice in Queer Communities

Sarah Schulman Explains How Rent Straightwashed Queer Lives and AIDS Activism (Trish Bendix, them)

She Coined the Term 'Intersectionality" Over 30 Years Ago. Here's What it Means to Her Today (Katy Steinmetz, TIME)

SKETCH Working Arts

Words Matter: Preferred Language for Talking About Addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Stratford Public Library Suggested Reading List for Rent


Booking Information: Tickets, Workshops, Chats and Tours

Student Matinées

You may book any available date, but selected student matinée performances for this show are at 2:00 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, April 12th
  • Monday, April 17th
  • Wednesday, April 26th
  • Monday, May 8th
  • Wednesday, May 17th
  • Friday, May 19th
  • Wednesday, May 31st
  • Tuesday, June 6th
  • Friday, June 23rd
  • Tuesday, June 27th
  • Thursday, June 29th
  • Friday, September 8th
  • Thursday, September 14th
  • Tuesday, September 19th
  • Thursday, September 28th
  • Wednesday, October 4th
  • Tuesday, October 10th
  •  Friday, October 20th 
  • Thursday, October 26th

Workshop & Chats

Pre or Post-Show Workshops and Post-Show Chats (virtual, onsite or at your school/centre) can be booked by calling the Box Office at 1.800.567.1600.








Tools for Teachers include Prologues, Study Guides and Stratford Shorts.       


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