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RENT cast searches for “One Song Glory”

Tamar Tedla (‘20) and Parker Fretheim (‘19) perform the closing song in “RENT” together as Mimi Marquez and Roger Davis.

Tamar Tedla (‘20) and Parker Fretheim (‘19) perform the closing song in “RENT” together as Mimi Marquez and Roger Davis.

Jonathan Kuehner (‘20) | Chips

Jonathan Kuehner (‘20) | Chips

Tamar Tedla (‘20) and Parker Fretheim (‘19) perform the closing song in “RENT” together as Mimi Marquez and Roger Davis.

Jonathan Kuehner, Staff Writer

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I should tell you, I should tell you that “RENT” opened in Jewel Theatre in the Center for the Arts (CFA) on Friday, Nov. 10. This performance of Jonathan Larson’s musical by the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VPA) features a diverse cast of students who portray a group of friends enduring the harsh realities of life in 1980s New York City.

Larson’s “RENT” originally opened at the New York Theater Workshop in 1996 and has performed on and off-Broadway, on tour, and now in Jewel Theater. The show was inspired by Puccini’s 1896 opera “La Bohéme” and follows a group friends living in a low-income New York City neighborhood during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The setting allows the show to address issues including social inequality and sexual orientation.

“This show gives voice to people who are crying for social change and that feel disenfranchised,” Music Director and Adjunct Faculty in Music Jonathon Struve (‘02) said. “We need to think about what matters in our society, what matters in our relationships with one another, and how we’re supposed to deal with the strife that inevitably comes along with human interaction.”

The VPA, which performs a musical every other school year, did not initially consider “RENT.” A group of students proposed “RENT” as an alternative option to the previously planned “Jekyll and Hyde.” The department agreed to reconsider, although some were reluctant at first.

“We really admired [the students’] drive, but my reservations were that ‘RENT’ [needed] a diverse cast that we don’t always have auditioning,” Director and Assistant Professor of Theatre Robert Vrtis said. “I think ‘RENT’ is about inclusiveness, and I think it’s about people coming together from different backgrounds and different communities and finding a community that way.”

Jonathan Kuehner (‘20) | Chips
Janet Irankunda (‘19) performs in “RENT” as Joanne Jefferson and solos in the song “Season of Love.”

As a result, “RENT” was only selected after auditions. In fact, enough students auditioned for “RENT” that four major roles were double-casted — the roles of Mark Cohen, Joanne Jefferson, Mimi Marquez, and Maureen Johnson are played by alternating actors for the six performances of the show.

Emma Withers (‘18), who acts in several different roles as a part of the ensemble, enjoyed the process of staging the show and watching the pieces come together.

“It’s been neat because some nights we’d have lots of dancing and we’d just dance for three hours straight, and some nights were strictly singing,” Withers said. “The coolest part has been putting all those elements together and seeing how they work cohesively as a show.”

In addition to traditional rehearsals, the cast was encouraged to research the issues and context of the show. Some of the issues were AIDS, drug abuse, and poverty in the 1980s.

“We had [the cast] research the time period quite heavily so they could put it into context and get a greater understanding,” Stage Manager Meghan Gaffney (‘18) said. “We all went through our angsty teenage phase and our rebellious phase, and we are the ages of the characters, so it’s one of the more relatable shows we’ve done.”

Jonathan Kuehner (‘20) | Chips
Zachary Loving (‘19) performs in “RENT” as Tom Collins

“RENT” also relates to the VPA’s season theme: Revolution and Reformation. This is connected to the campus-wide celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. When proposed, the show was accepted because it not only discusses revolution and the search for societal change, but it presents these issues in a novel format.

Grace Huber (‘20), who plays Maureen Johnson, found that the plot of “RENT” related to ideas of reformation.

“The show is shining a light on parts of the world that people don’t want to think about,” Huber said. “I think it’s a revolution not only of the homeless and the people who have been silenced deciding to take a stand, but also a revolution in the minds of everyday people who don’t know what was going on.”

“RENT” performances will continue this upcoming weekend in Jewel Theater. The Thursday and Friday shows will be held at 7:30 p.m., and the Saturday and Sunday matinees will be at 1:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought at the door or ahead of time at the Ticket Office.

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