“Rent” brings bohemia to USM

Cast members pose for a scene from this season’s opening production, “Rent.” Zachary Odom/Printz
Cast members pose for a scene from this season’s opening production, “Rent.”
Zachary Odom/Printz

The USM theatre department will open its fall season Oct. 3 with its take on the Tony award-winning Broadway show, “Rent.”

Written by Jonathan Larson, “Rent” follows a group of artists, rebels and bohemians in 1980s New York city during the AIDS epidemic.

“We are opening with this because, I think, it’s a big name,” said Robin Carr, associate professor and director of “Rent.” “I think [theatre] students and audiences will be very excited with it.”

“We’re coming out with a bang,” she added. “And everyone is totally pumped.”

Jennifer Diaz, a senior theatre major, will take on the role of Mimi, a 19-year-old club dancer who is an addict and HIV positive. She said the cast wanted to bring a grittier element to the show and ground it in modern day reality.

“This is a celebration of life among despair,” Diaz said. “We are really excited to present it to the Hattiesburg community.”

Jamiaus Marion, a sophomore dance performance major will portray Angel, a drag queen with AIDS.

“‘Rent’ is more than just a show,” Marion said. “It represents people in life and what they do every day.”

As for Angel, Marion said, “I don’t like calling her a drag queen. I like calling her an eccentric.”

Angel was a very difficult character for Marion at first. “It was tough at first to work in heels,” Marion said. “But now I feel like I could run a marathon.”

The production team decided early on to take the design and tone in a different direction than the popularized version of “Rent.” “What we consciously did, we didn’t want to recreate what was on Broadway,” Carr said.

“This isn’t your dad’s “Rent,” said Benjamin Norman, a third-year graduate student in light and design.

Norman is taking inspiration from the rock-n-roll heritage of the play with the lightning, but is trying to maintain a more understated tone. “It’s a very real and poignant story,” Norman said. “Lights sentiate it.”

Performances will take place in Tatum Theatre on Oct. 3-4 and Oct. 9-12 at 7:30 p.m. The show will also run on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for faculty, staff, seniors and veterans and $14 for general admission. For more information or to buy tickets online go to http://www.usm.edu/theatre/our-2013-14-season.