‘RENT’ performed Sunday to raise funds, spread awareness

Ryan Morris

The Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble performed an in-concert version of the award-winning musical, “RENT” Sunday evening in Rosen Concert Hall.

Over 550 people attended the two performances, with over 300 at the 8 p.m. showing alone.

“Genuine and spontaneous standing ovations were received at the end of both performances and we had to hold for sustained applause five times before continuing the show – twice during the afternoon show and three times during the evening show,” said theatre professor Keith Martin.

The show was the first performance of the Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble, the performance arm of the Appalachian Musical Theatre Club, which formed late last semester.

While the club did purchase the rights to the complete musical and had access to a full orchestra, they lack the funds to provide for production aspects such as a complete set or costumes, and as a result the group has had to get somewhat creative.

Organizers described the production as “half staged-reading and half concert.”

“It’s been different than any other production that I’ve been a part of,” junior theatre arts major Luke Schaffer said.

Schaffer plays the role of Mark Cohen, the narrator of the story.

Schaffer calls the student-run work a collaboration, as opposed to main-stage shows where the different behind-the-scenes roles are already taken care of.

“The people in the club are stepping up to do everything, so it’s been a learning experience for everyone,” he said.

Aside from being the first musical the group has produced, the show also marks the regional premiere of “RENT” in any form in the High Country.

“You look at the material and know that a high school isn’t going to touch it,” Martin said. “Of the Ten Commandments, I’m pretty sure we break at least seven just in the context of the show. Language alone would give it an R rating.”

Since the Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble is a student organization, the club is free to explore more risqué options, such as “RENT.”

“We have to worry about making our money back, but we don’t have to worry about pushing as many buttons as a small community theater might,” said Jonathan Green, senior English major and student director of the production. “We have the protection of the university.”

The show was intended to serve not only as a fundraiser to the club, but also as a catalyst in bringing more musical theater to Boone.

“I want to identify a critical mass of musical theater talent in hopes of demonstrating that this university can support more than one musical every two, three or four years,” Martin said.

There is currently no musical theater program or major offered at Appalachian.

The musical follows eight central characters, four of which are HIV positive, and is set in the 1990’s. Keith Martin explained that the production is full of “tender moments.”

“I was asked during both intermissions if we sold Kleenex or if I had a tissue,” Martin said.

The production coincided with the goals of World AIDS Day, which was Dec. 1, and included spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS, reducing AIDS related deaths and reducing new HIV infections altogether.

“It’s great to see that there’s real hope in the high country for individuals with AIDS.” Green said. “We just want to show that there is hope, there is love, there is a community here to help you.”

Green said there were collaborative efforts made with the LGBT Center and AIDS support group ALPHA for the production. If funds are raised, the club intends to produce a fully staged musical every semester.

Story: LOVEY COOPER, A&E Reporter