High school students set to take on ‘Rent’

By April Dahlquist

Paying rent isn’t just a college student’s dilemma, but also the first of many hurdles for the cast of Champaign Central High School’s musical “Rent.”

The musical has never been performed by a high school before. Director LaDonna Wilson, through “sheer tenacity”, got the rights to the “School Edition of Rent”, which will not be released for other high schools until July.

The show runs from Wednesday until Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2:30.

Unlike most musicals performed by high schools, “Rent” is considered more of an adult musical because the main themes deal with homosexuality and AIDS.

“There is always a fine line when it comes to high school actors; ‘Are they going to be mature enough to handle subject matter?'” said Wilson. “My students are very professional. We’ve done ‘Chicago’ and ‘The Laramie Project’ so we deal with these types of subjects all the time.”

The school edition edits some lyrics with profanity, and eliminates the song “Contact,” due to content. The rest however, is true to the original musical.

“We’re not doing this to push the edge. We want to bring awareness to important issues raised in the show,” said cast member Mallie Vigar. “It’s more educational, not for shock value.”

One of Wilson’s goals in directing “Rent” is to increase awareness and tolerance about homosexuality and AIDS. She is concerned with the sexual education students are receiving.

“I definitely think abstinence should be taught, but what we need is emphasis for kids who are not being abstinent,” said Wilson. “In my senior English class alone, I’ve seen nine girls who are pregnant or already have babies, this year. Clearly, kids are having sex.”

In order to have a better understanding of their subject material, the cast heard from a Champaign community member who is HIV positive, and from the Greater Community AIDS Project. The cast, which includes 25 students, wanted to research the issues in order to accurately portray the issues of intolerance and social acceptance.

While the cast has demonstrated its maturity, Wilson hopes the audience will receive the musical just as well.

“At the preview most students handled it well. There were some giggles, but the show goes on,” said cast member Corben Dixon.

The production portrays characters dying of AIDS as well as homosexual affection, which does create some tension in the audience, said Wilson. However, Wilson is known for not directing only the “happy-go-lucky” musicals.

“The show isn’t any more controversial than the movie,” Wilson said. “It’s just harder to think of the performers as high schoolers, not professionals.”

Vigar, who plays one of the homosexuals, said showing affection on stage isn’t too difficult, as it is just part of the character work.

Marc Wilson, who plays a homosexual male transvestite, stated that though wearing girl’s clothes was awkward at first, it is just part of the challenge of being an actor.

“We are adults. In a year, most of us will be in college,” Wilson said. “It’s not adult themes when we’re surrounded with this all the time at school.”