The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

RENT debuts with volunteer student-based cast, crew at the State Theatre tonight

Janie Boschma

“It follows the lives of seven friends in the disappearing bohemian lifestyle in New York,” RENT director Wayne Marek said. “Many people think it’s about drug addicts, drag queens and alternative lifestyles, but the show is really about connections, love and compassion.”

The landmark musical and Broadway hit RENT has only recently been released to community theater, he said, and the Eau Claire Children’s Theater will be among the first to produce this heart-wrenching and provocative tale of raw human emotion.

The musical will be performed at the State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St., featuring a volunteer-based production, with a cast and crew of local talent, many of whom are UW-Eau Claire students.

“This show is an actor’s dream to do,” said non-traditional student Jessica Breed (Maureen). “It’s challenging, it’s fun, it’s modern, it’s edgy.”

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“The show’s themes are universal,” said Marek, adding it has something to which everyone can relate.

“These are experiences that everyone deals with,” said senior Patrick Jones (Tom Collins). “Addiction, loneliness, loss, financial troubles, love and the things people fall in love with.”

But RENT does more than explore these widespread issues.

“It exposes stereotypes and breaks them down,” Jones said.

UW-Eau Claire alumna Marni Poquette (Joanne) agreed, relating the story to her own experiences.

“This is the first show I’ve done in 10 years, and I had never wanted to commit the time to a show before this one,” she said. “When I first saw RENT, I totally related to it and it changed my life. I loved the message – it makes a statement about beliefs and views that are not accepted. I grew up in a small town, and, in a way, I see it as sort of a civil rights movement.”

Even with a show that’s so realistic, it can, at times, be difficult for an actor to relate to characters surrounded by such emotional circumstances, the actors said.

“To get to the emotions of the character,” UW-Eau Claire alum Adam Krajnikconde (Roger) said. “You have to draw on past experiences that you’ve had that made you feel that way and bring a part of your life into the character. It’s truly a molding of two different personas.”

Poquette agreed, saying that she relates very closely to her character.

“Joanne is totally me,” she said. “She’s organized, family is very important to her as is a committed relationship and she has a good education. Even her faults – she’s nervous and, at times, jealous – I can relate to.”

Though the characters are so close to reality, it’s ironically challenging to portray them, Kelly Peak (Mark) said, who’s been working with the Eau Claire Children’s Theater since 1993.

“This show’s as close to reality as you’re going to get,” he said. “But we’re throwing ourselves into these roles, and it’s emotionally exhausting. It really gets to the raw part of your acting abilities.”

The exhaustion is just one aspect to committing to a role in theater, though.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I can’t seem to stop,” Breed said. “It’s addicting and very close to my heart. I met my husband here at a show and now my whole family’s involved.”

Jones agreed.

“It’s a release for me. It keeps me sane.”

The community of community theater is so helpful and supportive, it makes the hard work well worth it, Kendra Tanberg (Mimi) said. But more, it prepares you for future obstacles, she said.

“It’s amazing – it can prepare you for every job,” she said. “It teaches good public speaking and teamwork skills and leaves you more confident, not only in your work, but in life, in general.”

The actors said the group truly becomes like a family.

“You meet a lot of different people,” Tanberg said. “I would never have the friends I have now, if it weren’t for this – family can be anyone.”

When considering volunteering for the theater, confidence is key, Tanberg said.

“Don’t be afraid to audition or you won’t do it to your fullest,” she said. “It’s things like this that will really push you out of your comfort zone and change you.”

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RENT debuts with volunteer student-based cast, crew at the State Theatre tonight