From The Sentinel
The North Idaho College Gay-Straight Alliance club (GSA) sponsored the Jan. 18 performance of “Rent” at the Lake City Playhouse. The club began selling tickets to the rock musical Dec. 1 in the SUB. Half the ticket sales went to the Lake City Playhouse and the other half toward GSA club funds.
Linda Michal, GSA faculty advisor and Dean of Students, said the GSA sold tickets in order to support the Lake City Playhouse’s decision to produce a play that has stirred up controversy in the community.
“I think it [‘Rent’] has got a great message,” Michal said. “You actually get to watch parts of people’s lives and see the experience they’re going through because of being gay, lesbian or HIV positive. Getting to see the human side breaks down stereotypes.”
Michal worked with AIDS and HIV for a long time and said she is proud of the Lake City Playhouse for “taking the heat” for “Rent,” likening the decision to NIC theater instructor Joe Jacoby’s controversial 2011 production of “The Laramie Project.”
The protests that were rumored to take place outside the Lake City Playhouse never materialized, but the Coeur d’Alene Press received numerous letters condemning the production for its explicit portrayal of homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. One such letter to the editor accused the musical of being a “celebration of sin.”
Out of the eight main characters in “Rent,” four suffer from HIV/AIDS and four are homosexual, bisexual or transgender. The musical also features drug use, poverty, sexually provocative scenes and profanity.
Before the play Wednesday night, and during intermission, GSA sold cupcakes with rainbow icing for $2 and set up a table with educational literature on sexuality. GSA members also displayed a petition for a LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) safe room, The Ally Center, at NIC. GSA President, Danni Bain, 22, theater, said this is one of her major projects as an ASNIC senator.
George Green, executive artistic director at the Lake City Playhouse, introduced Wednesday’s performance by expressing his gratitude to the audience.
“There are people who said that if I showed this play they’d never come back to the Playhouse,” Green said. “Let’s prove them wrong.”
Bain said every performance has sold out the night before the actual show.
Bain, the performance sound operator, said she had never seen the stage performance of “Rent,” but had been familiar with the musical for several years.
“Honestly, working on this show has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life,” Bain said. “Of the three shows I have run sound for ‘Rent’ has been the most challenging and I have learned a lot.”
“Rent” rehearsed for about eight weeks before opening.
“Last season when the Playhouse announced they were doing ‘Rent’ I knew I wanted to be a part of the production,” Bain said. “I loved the message of the show and wanted to do whatever I could to help.”
“Rent” is based on the Puccini classic “La Boheme.” “Rent,” which opened in 1994, enjoyed a 12-year run on Broadway, was adapted into a film and won a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards. The production has earned hundreds of millions of dollars and has been produced in 24 languages worldwide. Both productions resolve to find hope, love, courage and compassion in the face of suffering.
Troy Nickerson, the director of the Lake City Playhouse performance of “Rent,” said he wasn’t a fan when the play originally came out because he had lost friends to AIDS.
About 80 men and women auditioned for a handful of roles in “Rent.” The final decision brings together of some of the best local talent, including Ben Sheff, a former NIC student. Sheff plays Tom Collins, the young, gay NYU philosophy professor and anarchist with AIDS.
“Rent’s” cast is just as diverse as its characters. The cast included gay people, straight people, Christians, those of Jewish faith and schoolteachers. There are homosexual actors and actresses playing straight roles, and straight women and men playing gay roles. Robert Garcia, a Spokane drag queen, plays Benjamin Coffin III, the straight, yuppie landlord.
Each night, audience members volunteered new names for the support group members of “Rent” based off of community members who actually suffered from HIV/AIDS.
“Rent” raised money for the INBA Outreach scholarships and the North Idaho AIDS coalition during its opening night benefit performance Jan. 12.
GSA raised enough money to fund planned projects for the rest of the year.