RENT captures epidemic through rock music 

Minnesota State Theater and Dance is putting on the musical, “RENT,” which talks about one of the most significant moments in LGBT+ history: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The show will run at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 5-7, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 7 and 8. 

“RENT” follows a group of friends trying to escape poverty, homelessness, and the threat of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s East Village of New York City.  By tackling the issues head-on, individuals come to their own personal realizations and determine what is truly important in life. 

Davis Jensen plays Mark Cohen, a videographer who captures what is happening as the musical goes on as he works on his film. Jensen said he thinks this issue is important in today’s society because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Students can relate to how the characters are feeling. He also said it is “good to spread awareness of both that and the LGBT side of the show.”  

“He is capturing moments between his friend group and is trying his hardest to cheer everyone up and make every day special because it could always be the last day,” said Jensen. “I like how he’s just kind of like he tries to help connect everyone he tries to help and have a good time, and I can relate to that on a personal level.” 

Garmunee Phillips plays Tom Collins in “RENT” and auditioned for the role of Roger. He said he wanted to do something different from the characters he’s been in the past. 

“Rogers’s role is much different from what I’m used to. I’m usually like the comedic relief or like the funny best friend, you know, something of that manner, but I like my role,” said Phillips. “I can relate to Collins a lot because of the carefree entity. His demeanor resembles my demeanor in the sense of walking in a room and just being all smiles, laughter, and joy.” 

Phillips said that this musical is important in 2023 because of the themes discussed with the LGBT+ community in the show. He said that everyone can learn something by coming to the show. 

“It’s hitting a lot on LGBT+ topics and the AIDS epidemic back then. Anybody can relate to that; it doesn’t have to be AIDS. It can be any type of disease or medical thing,” said Phillips. “I think the show shows that you’re not the only person going through this, and there’s always a space, a community and a safe space for you.” 

Auditions for the musical happened last spring, and callbacks happened on the first day of classes. The turnaround for this show was quick, and the Director of the show, Vladimir Rovinsky, said that despite the challenge, it’s been “business as usual.” 

“Well, it’s complicated from a technical point of view. Our set is not just a plain background; it’s a very active element of the show. It’s moving along with the show, transforming the show,” said Rovinsky. “In theater, we always wish we had one more week, only a couple of weeks, because in many ways, to kind of become the person you are presenting on stage.” 

The show has also had a mental challenge for the actors as well. Phillips said that it was all about getting into that mindset. 

“We all did a good job having nice conversations about what we’re saying. We’re saying these words that could be slurs or derogatory and understanding the meaning behind them and why we’re using them in this show,” said Phillips. “The show is very risky. We’re pushing the buttons a lot in this show, and I think you’ll see that once we’re on stage.”

For more information on how to get tickets, go to the theater arts page on the MSU website.

Write to Lauren Viska at lauren.viska@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Set in New York City’s gritty East Village, RENT tells the story of a group of bohemians struggling to live and pay their rent. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

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