The New Mexico State University Department of Theatre Arts is continuing its run of the award-winning musical production “Rent” this weekend at the NMSU Center for the Arts. The play was in rehearsal for five weeks and is the result of the hard work of not only the production staff, but also the students involved.
Twenty years ago, playwright and composer Jonathan Larson had the idea to turn the classic opera “La Bohème” into a modern musical. The result was the Tony Award-winning musical “Rent.” The director of the NMSU production, Wil Kilroy, aimed to make a very distinct version of the play — one that has never been done before. He said the production includes some audience interaction as well as character differences that give it a new charm.
“I am trying to have each actor play with whatever their qualities are,” Kilroy said, who is also the head of the theater department. “What makes it unique are these particular performers interpreting the characters through their own creativity.”
“Rent” is set in the early 1980s amid the AIDS epidemic in New York. The story follows two roommates and their community of friends as they come together to try to find love and navigate living with AIDS.
Claudia Billings, the marketing director for the play and an associate professor in the theater department, believes it is an important play. “There’s very little dialogue; it’s all sung. It’s very historically significant,” Billings said. “It was one of the first of the [rock opera] genre and, of course, deals with AIDS. It deals with the gay lifestyle. It deals with some very controversial issues, and we like to do controversial things that are going to make people think.”
Apart from the theater department staff involved in the play, students comprise the production team. The set was designed by a student and most of the cast consists of students enrolled at NMSU. The students involved also helped to choose the production. Kilroy said that he brought the idea of doing “Rent” to the students and they were all for doing it.
“I’m hoping this play will appeal to [students] because these are young people struggling to find what their niche is in the world and that’s what most college students are wondering,” Kilroy said.
Calvin Chervinko, a theater major who plays “Mark” in the play, expressed excitement about the show. “It’s a big part of our history, but it’s something that not everybody knows of,” Chervinko said. “The biggest challenge is trying to encompass the feeling of this time period. I’m excited for people to see what we have been spending all this time on … I’m excited to see everyone’s reaction to what an amazing, heartfelt, funny kind of raunchy show this is.”
NMSU premiered its production of “Rent” on Friday, April 27. There are four remaining shows this weekend. Schedule and ticket information are available on the NMSU theater department website.