UAlbany Theatre Program Bringing Rock Musical 'Rent' to PAC Stage

More than a dozen students dressed in 1980s and 1990s attire stand on a table on a dark stage and sing, a string of lights hang behind them. A woman in a Santa coat stands at the center singing.
The Theatre Program at UAlbany will present the rock musical "Rent" this Thursday through Sunday at the Performing Arts Center. The student cast features a group of eight principal performers plus an ensemble of sixteen. (Photos by Brian Busher)

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 2, 2023) — The University at Albany’s Theatre Program is bringing Rent, Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer and Tony award-winning landmark rock musical, to the Performing Arts Center stage starting today, with five performances slated to last throughout the weekend.

The popular musical, which first premiered off-Broadway in 1996 to rave reviews before transferring to Broadway later that year, follows a year in the lives of a diverse group of artists and friends struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. Set in Manhattan’s East Village in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the characters face challenges of poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, social tension and political unrest against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Directed by guest artist Chuck Kraus in his first ever production at UAlbany, the student cast features a group of eight principal performers plus an ensemble of 16.

“Pain, struggle, heartache, sickness, loss will happen to all of us,” said Kraus, who is managing director at Albany's Playhouse Stage Company (formerly Park Playhouse). “That these traumas happen to us is not unique. What has the chance to be unique is how we decide to respond. Rent is about the response. It is about the small acts of defiance. In a world that so often feels off the rails, the act of creation is in and of itself revolutionary.”

Musical direction is by Michael Lister with choreography by AshleySimone Kirchner, both on the faculty of UAlbany’s Department of Music and Theatre. Kirchner is also associate artistic director at Playhouse Stage Company.

While the show is set in the '80s and '90s, students participating in the production say they feel its themes — of overcoming hardship and marginalization and building community — remain as relevant as ever today.

The student cast of "Rent" poses for a picture backstage at dress rehearsals.
The student cast of Rent poses backstage at dress rehearsals.

“There are characters in the show, homeless people, people that are a part of the LGBTQ community, that are being mistreated by other people because of who they are, how they look, how they act,” said Jacob Bell, a sophomore who will be playing the character of Mark Cohen, a filmmaker who narrates much of the show. “There are people still being mistreated today for the way they are.”

Deasia Clarke, a senior who is a member of the ensemble cast, said she sees parallels between the hardships of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to harms that arise when people blame a vulnerable group for a public health emergency.

She also sees the positive parallels.

“During the pandemic, there are people trying to help their elderly and their community and make sure that everyone’s staying safe,” she said. “There’s also some light or good that can come through these terrible times. And I think that’s specifically what I can take away from Rent — that message of togetherness.”

A sense of community and togetherness is a major reason cast members gave for joining the Theatre Program at UAlbany. Some shared that they were bullied for their interests when they were younger and were able to find a sense of belonging and family among those who share their passion for music and acting.

“It doesn’t feel like rehearsing,” said Autumn Bostick, who left a culinary career to pursue her love of acting at UAlbany. “It feels like hanging out with a bunch of people I enjoy talking to. I think we’ve grown so close as a cast that it’s really like a family environment. And I hope you can see that on stage.”

There will be five public performances of the show: today at 8 p.m.; Friday at 3 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Advance tickets are $20 for the general public and $17 for students, senior citizens and faculty-staff. Tickets purchased day of are $25 for the general public and $22 for students, seniors and faculty-staff. All tickets must be purchased online from the UAlbany Performing Arts Center website. Contact the PAC main office at 518-442-3995 or [email protected].