October 18, 2022

Rock Musical ‘RENT’ Opens on L&C Main Stage

RENT, a collaboration between the music and theatre departments, opens on October 28. Lewis & Clark’s production of the Pulitzer and Tony award-winning musical seeks to ground the story in the gritty history of the AIDS epidemic, honor the narratives of queer individuals, and grow the audience for live theatre.

Poster for RENT, presented by L&C music and theatre departments Poster for RENT, presented by L&C music and theatre departments

by David Oehler BA ’14

This fall, the theatre and music departments will present the rock musical RENT, by Jonathan Larson, on the Lewis & Clark main stage. More than 45 actors, musicians, and stage crew members are involved in the production.

Based on Puccini’s beloved opera La Bohème, RENT follows the ups and downs of a year in the life of a group of impoverished, artistic friends living in Manhattan’s East Village. The group’s dreams, losses, and love stories weave through the musical’s narration to paint a raw, emotional portrait of the gritty bohemian world of New York City in the late 1980s, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. When the musical debuted on Broadway in 1996, it quickly earned critical acclaim and went on to earn the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Rebecca Lingafelter, associate professor of theatre and RENT director Rebecca Lingafelter, associate professor of theatre and RENT directorRebecca Lingafelter, associate professor of theatre and RENT director, says the aim is to be true to the lived experience of HIV/AIDS community members, but also to honor the love and loyalty they have for one another, unleashing catharsis.

“The play is about young people,” says Lingafelter, “the themes of the play revolve around living with chronic illness and the caretaking experiences that arise from that.” These themes live large for many of us after the past few years of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Lingafelter, her desire is to imbue this production with a “kind of grittiness” to make “a real period piece.”

As a step toward making this vision a reality, Lingafelter reached out to the Office of Equity and Inclusion. With the help of a grant from the OEI Diversity Fund, she was able to hire Ezri Reyes BA ’22 as a cultural consultant. The position, which is new to the theatre department, blends the roles of dramaturge and advocate for cast and crew.

Ezri Reyes BA '22, RENT cultural consultant Ezri Reyes BA ’22, RENT cultural consultantOne of Reyes’s many goals is to represent on and off stage the varied and multifaceted identities whose story this musical tells. Part of this process has involved casting more broadly, with a focus on finding actors who could bring a depth and variety of lived experiences to their performances that echo those of the character themselves. Reyes speaks about their thought process: “How are we engaging with all the communities on campus? How are we inviting people to the theatre who aren’t usually in the theatre because of these old traditions and ideas that don’t align with the values we have now?”

In addition to honoring the diversity of the story with a diverse cast and crew, Reyes and Lingafelter hope to grow the audience to include groups and individuals who might otherwise not feel drawn to the theatre experience.

Students rehearsing for the main stage production of RENT. Students rehearsing for the main stage production of RENT.Over the course of the play’s run, the theatre department will host four different talkbacks, where audience members will engage with various subsets of the production team as well as staff from the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement. The Sunday matinee performance on October 30 will be an affinity showing, with a majority of tickets reserved for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community members. Reyes and Lingafelter also hope to invite campus affinity groups, such as the Queer Student Union, Feminist Student Union, and Black Student Union, to be present at performances and speak with interested attendees.

“Why we’re doing RENT,” says Reyes, “is to be together again and to celebrate all of our beautiful differences. We want to experience the feeling of how, when we’re together, we can do so much more.”

RENT will run October 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., October 30 at 2 p.m., and on November 3, 4, and 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online or in person at the box office.

Theatre Department Music Department RENT