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28 Jun 2013

Benj Pasek
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award nominee Benj Pasek, writer of A Christmas Story, Dogfight and James and the Giant Peach.

My 9th grade English teacher's name was Al Vernacchio. He was openly gay when I was in school and he had a Rent poster in his classroom. I remember walking in the room every day, right around the time my voice was beginning to change and as I was becoming aware of my sexuality. This guy was openly gay and championing Rent as a legitimate work and something that was important for young people to know. It was on the wall along with a poster of "The Grapes of Wrath" as part of the American canon of important work.

That was hugely influential for me. I had come to love Rent, and having a bond with an openly gay teacher over a show that was also about the gay identity, was very important because I was definitely the only gay kid in my class. It didn't treat their sexuality as "Oh my God, they're gay," they just happened to be people who were in love. That was monumental for me. That show became a huge symbol for accepting the gay identity. And now I have the chance to work with the original director of Rent, Michael Greif, on my new show with Justin Paul - that full-circle moment is huge for me.


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