If you’ve taken a stroll down High Street in the last couple of days, you may have noticed a motley crew of performers capering on the South College fire escape, perhaps bursting into song. This is the cast of “Rent,” a Second Stage production of Jonathan Larson’s classic rock opera going up this Friday through Sunday in—surprise—that exact space. As is to be expected from any group working on a show like “Rent,” spirits are high, despite an initially rocky road.
“I have had the most fun working on this show that I’ve had on any show ever,” said Blair Laurie ’12, the show’s director (another of her credits was last spring’s production of “Sweeney Todd”). “And I’ve been doing theater for a while.”
“Rent” is an iconic show, she said, and one that many people already have a personal connection to even before coming to the show.
“I’ve been in love with ‘Rent’ since high school,” said Tamar Glatman Zaretsky ’12, one of the show’s stage managers.
It wasn’t always such a perfect love affair, though. In fact, the show Laurie and the rest of her team were originally going to create this semester was probably the other well-known Broadway rock show, hippie-inspired “Hair.” After the rights agreement for that show fell through—“Hair” is on its national tour until at least this time next year—the group found themselves suddenly without a show and almost at the deadline for show applications.
“We knew we still wanted to do a musical and probably a large musical, and we made [Second Stage] staff aware of that,” Glatman Zaretsky said.
Despite that, the uncertain nature of their application landed them as an alternate-space show, and finding a space that both fits the aesthetic and was available has been a challenge.
“We basically investigated everywhere. And for various reasons, we were put in the difficult position of not having a space,” said Donovan Arthen ’11, the show’s musical director.
Many regular performance spaces, such as the WestCo Café, are closed due to reading week. Other spaces are already booked solid with end-of-the-year events. Eventually the group managed to coordinate use of the South College fire escape, a place where theater has likely never been produced before, although even this space came with its own hurdles.
“Because we [were] a really big show without a space, we actually have not had a rehearsal with everyone in the cast. Tuesday at 6:30 is our first full-cast rehearsal and Tuesday at 8:30 may be our last,” Elizabeth MacLachlan ’11, the show’s other stage manager, said.
Laurie added that the outdoor space has presented difficulties.
“Not being in a closed environment makes rehearsals either worse or better,” she said. “You get people walking through our scene, for example. Although that’s great because it keeps the actors on their toes.”
According to Glatman Zaretsky, the team has also seen little encouragement from others.
“There’s been a lack of support on many sides, from Second Stage and the administration, and even from students who hear about this and say, ‘Why are you trying to do this?,’” Glatman Zaretsky said. “Michael Roth thought we sounded great, though.”
Glatman Zaretsky noted that despite her feeling that some students were unnecessarily pessimistic, she thought that the turnout for their auditions told its own story.
“We’ve got people who would refuse to audition for any other show, who just decided to turn out for this,” she said of their cast.
Others in the group added that the show was good enough to stand on its own merits, despite the fact that it is now a staple of the musical theater world and no longer revolutionary.
“Something we’ve talked about a lot as a cast is the time,” Laurie said. “This is 20 years ago now. There’s a lot of heavy stuff, but at the core of it, it’s really beautiful.”
“Musically, it’s really exciting,” Arthen said. “It’s got a variety of feelings and tones, and it uses those feelings to deliver a great message.”
Ultimately, the group says, it doesn’t matter whether it rains or if their first full-cast rehearsal isn’t until three days before opening. The show has, in their minds, already been a success.
“At this point, even if people don’t support it, we love it,” Laurie said. “We’re basically going to perform it for ourselves.”
“Rent” will be performed at 9:30 p.m. this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday outside South College (the performers are on the fire escape). In the case of rain, the show will be moved to the Memorial Chapel.