Tuesday, June 26, 2012


By Official RENT Blog contributor Tommy Collison

RENT asked Tommy: In your Q&A you mentioned that you connected most with Mark partly due to his work being important in his life. Mark's movie spotlights the homeless and persons struggling in the streets during the late '80s in NYC. If you were to make a movie or write a social commentary, what issues in Ireland would you talk about and why? How does your piece that you would write connect with Mark or the show in general?

In Ireland, there exists a traditional nomadic people, who are known as “Irish Travelers”, and who make up about 0.5% of the population (around 36,000 people). They are not homeless, per sé, rather they choose not to live in a settled fashion, living in caravans or the like. Their children often grow up outside the mainstream education system and a European Parliament Committee of Enquiry on Racism and Xenophobia found them to be one of the most discriminated-against social groups in Europe. Because some -- not all -- members of the traveling community engage in petty crime and anti-social behavior, there exists a totally unfair social stigma around these ‘travelers’, and they often find it difficult to secure employment. The discrimination that travelers face is not all that different from the discrimination that African-Americans faced during the first half of the 20th century in how it appeared in everyday life.

If I were to make a social commentary, I would absolutely choose the widespread ostracism that travelers face. I think it’s a very pressing issue, in that human rights are being denied to these people each and every day. In making the documentary, I’d probably do a mix of video and text. I would use the visual element of the piece to cast light on the discrimination that travelers face, and to document it. I think it’s important to highlight the discrimination that travelers are subjected to, and try and remove the negative stereotypes that many “settled” Irish people have towards this minority. With regard to text, a rhetoric with a power akin to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech would surely incite a push for equality, and pressure the government into ending the ostracism faced by members of the traveling community.

I think that the piece that I would do would connect me with Mark in that he was trying to document the hardships that homeless people in New York faced. In the same way, the aims of my documentary would also document the hardships faced by travelers in Ireland. I think Mark and I share a strong sense of justice; both of us are deeply moved by people struggling on the fringes of society. As for connecting to the show itself, I believe its underlying message is one of accepting people of all types, and my documentary would attempt to unify the Irish people, both settled and unsettled.


RENT fans, let's continue the conversation: What social issues do you want to document? Tell us about what you are doing or plan to do to create change in the world. Share your stories in the comments below or on RENT's Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about the current Off-Broadway production of RENT at www.siteforrent.com.

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