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RDC lights up the stage with Rent

Theatre studies student delve into famed Broadway musical

Red Deer College theatre studies students will be hitting the Arts Centre mainstage tomorrow evening with their own snappy version of Rent.

Performances run Feb. 10-12, 16-19 on the mainstage, with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

There are also matinees Feb. 12 and 19 at 1 p.m.

Described as the most influential musical of the 1990s, Rent sharply reflects the attitudes of a generation that opts to shun authority while redefining life in their own terms.

“Certainly the themes are universal,” explains director Thomas Usher, a theatre studies instructor at RDC. “Rent also brought the musical to a generation that didn’t really go to musical theatre. Young people don’t necessarily go to musical theatre but they will go to a rock show, and this was a really good rock show with a story. It made it much more accessible to them.

“Plus the characters are the same age, going through the same ‘angst’, trying to find their independence and identity while breaking away from their parents. There’s a bit of anarchy going on, so all those things resonate with a younger audience.”

Set in a depressed area of New York City, Rent follows the experiences of a group of poor young artists who reject help from their parents to live freely as artists. Clearly, it’s not an easy, charmed path. They take over an old warehouse with no heat or power, and live under the shadow of everything from the threat and reality of AIDS, drug addiction and poverty. The warehouse is also managed by Ben, a former friend who has married into money and now demands rent for the past year.

While celebrating their decision to live life without rules at the Life Café, Ben padlocks the entrance to the warehouse. Naturally, this sets off an explosion of conflict.

The RDC rendition includes a cast of 15 students who had to not only pour their hearts and souls into the dramatic demands of the script, but learn to effectively belt out a variety of songs as well. “We’re working hard to make them confident with this type of singing,” explains Usher. “A lot of the banter back and forth is sung, so the biggest challenge for some of these students is the scale of realism of what they’re singing about. These songs are all passionately driven, which all songs should be.”

Rent has, over the years, certainly struck a chord with audiences. The acclaimed production has landed Tony Awards for Best Music, Best Score and Best Book (penned by Jonathan Larson) as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. A movie version was released in 2005 as well.

Capturing the essence of the story also meant learning about the times when the show is set. Although it’s not that long ago, there have been significant societal changes. More is known about AIDS now, for example, and the potential longevity of those infected with it these days has changed as compared to what it was in the mid-1990s.

Usher also had discussions with his students about subjects ranging from raw artistic expression in scenarios such as where Rent takes place to homelessness and poverty in New York City at the time.

For Usher, a gifted actor in his own right, tackling such a well-known musical has been a challenging albeit delightful experience. As he points out, it’s always about balancing his own creative vision for the project with what students and the artistic team as a whole may suggest along the way.

“My greatest fear is being complacent,” he says. “For me, it’s been great to live in a play that I don’t know enough about and with a style that is still fresh to me. I have to be on my game in terms of being prepared but also being open to what others bring to it.”

Rent does contain mature subject matter and course language. It’s recommended for ages 16 and up.

For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 403-340-4455 or check out

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