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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Rootare

Angel Dumott Schunard: Sustainable Fashion Icon

Over 300 million people watch the *kinda* live production of RENT this past Sunday - and I was one of them (I hope you were too, if you slept on RENT: Live, we might not be able to be friends, sorry!). RENT: Live wasn't perfect, but it reminded me why I love RENT so much. And boy - do I love RENT.

Girl stands in front of poster declaring RENT's final performance on Broadway.
Teen Lindsay hiding sadness about RENT closing under 2008's largest sunglasses.

My history with RENT (Because you asked):

RENT was the very musical I ever saw on Broadway, on my very first trip to New York City as a wee little tween. I immediately became obsessed. My dad and I listened to the Original Broadway Cast recording the entire 12 hour drive home to Detroit. Once home, I emailed all the contacts in my brand new email account "I LOVE RENT!!!!!!!!" in all red caps letters, in the Stencil font to look like the RENT logo (Duh). The Renthead was born. Over the next few years, I saw RENT live on Broadway and on the national tours over 2 dozen times. I made signs (and stole signs from theaters, ah!), mailed birthday cards to cast members, collected anything even vaguely related to the RENT universe, ate at Life Cafe and visited everywhere mentioned in the East Village dozens of times, directed my high school's production of RENT: School Edition (Skipping Easter with my family to hot glue yellow stars on jeans for Maureen's Over the Moon costume, a VERY true to the original production). I truly have never cried harder or longer in my entire life than when I read the announcement the show as closing on Playbill. I stole my dad's credit card to buy tickets to the final performance, which he had cancelled when he didn't recognize the charge (No, Dad!). Then bought tickets for the final week and entered the lotto for the final show, which I lost. THEN, by a true miracle from the ghost of Jonathan Larson, got a ticket to the final show from the bar attached to the theater and saw the final show and went to the after party. My teenage heart exploded. Later on in life, I worked for the producers of RENT and helped mount the 20th Anniversary National Tour. It was incredibly full circle. All of this is to say I know and love RENT. And was so excited for RENT:Live to introduce the musical to a new generation of people! I could hate on a lot of things that happened during the broadcast, but I won't because I'm so just excited I got to see RENT again!

And, despite having seen RENT probably close to 100 times at this point, having listened to it hundreds, if not thousands of times, and constantly being bombarded by RENT imagery, watching RENT, I still noticed new things and had new realizations watching RENT: Live.

Namely, that ANGEL DUMOTT SCHUNARD IS A SUSTAINABLE FASHION ICON. Audiences already knew that Angel was funny and creative and caring, and the literal angel to inspire us all to live no day but today and sob in the middle of Act 2. But, how did I never think about how Angel was a sustainable fashion icon? The girl was espousing sustainability before it was a buzzword and discretely ingraining sustainable practices that I'm only now registering I totally picked up on as a kid, just didn't realize it (She's that subtle!).

I'll break down a few of Angel's key instances as a sustainable fashion icon in this past weekend's production of RENT:Live! Hopefully people everywhere were not only able to be exposed to a great musical but some other great messages as well!

Angel and Collins beneath the repurposed trash Christmas tree.
Angel and Collins beneath the repurposed trash Christmas tree.

From Angel's first entrance in "You Okay, Honey?" at the beginning of Act 1, she's already serving up ecofriendly goodness. First, she's playing a 10 gallon bucket as a drum for money on the street. She's using what she has! A constant tenet of sustainability I see preached is "Don't buy, use what you have," and Angel does! She could have bought a drum or another instrument to play, but instead she makes what she has work. Towards the end of the song, Collins sings, "You made that tree?" (or in the Broadway version, "Nice tree!"). Angel responds, "I make lots of things!" Once again, we are seeing Angel using what she has, repurposing the trash of the Lower East Side and making something that can be enjoyed by many (More uses = better!). She's also just beginning to hint at her DIY sensibility, which can be a great practice for making more "green" things!

Angel shops a secondhand vendor on the street.
Angel shops a secondhand vendor on the street.

Later during "Christmas Bells," Angel goes shopping for a new coat for Collins. She has no qualms shopping secondhand, even digging on the floor to find that hidden gem (Or, Collins original coat). Shopping secondhand is a great way to shop sustainably, and would have been a great way to be a more conscious consumer during the late 80s/early 90s when the show takes place (and less sustainability aimed brands were around). Also, props to Collins! So often there is a stigma around gifting something secondhand and he does not bat an eye. Yes! We need to have more people open to receiving secondhand items as gifts!

*Side note, while not necessarily fashion related, there a few "sustainable moments" during La Vie Boheme, from the ordering of meatless balls to Mimi "performing her famous lawn chair handcuff dance clad only in bubble wrap to the sound of ice tea being stirred. Yeah! Wear that bubble wrap girl! Eat those meatless balls, gang!

Angel dressed as Pussy Galore from James Bond.
Pussy Galore, in person!

At the top of Act 2, Angel shows up for the New Years Eve Breaking Back into the Building Party dressed as Pussy Galore from James Bond. In the original Broadway production she enters in a dress made from a repurposed umbrella, but the RENT: Live production took it a step further, having Angel wear a bolero crafted from bubble wrap and CD-Rom earrings. Angel is once again repurposing the trash to make literal fashion! Before spinning water bottles into thread was cool, Angel was repurposing plastic for clothes and it was fabulous. Later during Angel's funeral, Maureen remarks, "So much more original than all of us. You'd find an old umbrella on the street and make a dress and sure enough, a year later they'd be mass producing them at Saks" (or the Gap, for the Broadway fans). Here's where Angel isn't just a sustainable fashionista, but a sustainable fashion ICON. She's influencing all the people around her!

Sadly, Angel doesn't last that much longer in the show, but her presence is always felt and influencing not only the characters around her, but the audience! - Encouraging us to repurpose, use what we have and shop secondhand as she flits through the Lower East Side!

Angel is the heart and soul of sustainability in RENT, but she's not the only source of inspiration! From the previously mentioned meatless balls and bubble wrap ensemble to the actual behind the scenes (Costume designer Angela Wendt found the initial iconic costumes in thrift stores!) to the mantra driving the show - No day but today. Some people could argue that it could be interpreted as not worrying about the future and sustainability, just worry about the now. I feel differently. I see it as no time like the present to try and make a difference, why wait for things to get bad? No day like today to start!

Thank you Jonathan Larson for creating such a wonderful show filled with characters like Angel Dumott Schunard. She's touched my life and I'm excited for this new group of people who finally got to meet her!


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