Though rehearsals took place all summer, opening night last Tuesday was the first time some of the cast’s parents, including McQueen’s, found out exactly what the play is about.
“Honestly, my parents have no idea about this show,” says Will Stanley, who plays the AIDS-afflicted Roger. “They know I’m doing the show, but they don’t know what RENT is; they don’t know what it’s about.”
For the students who didn’t tell their parents about the play’s core issues, the reason wasn’t so much about rebellion as it was about what they consider to be the importance of the show’s message.
“There are lesbians and gay people and people with AIDS in the show and it just kind of throws them at you and it says there’s nothing wrong with them so you need to accept them because they’re not going anywhere,” says McQueen.
Student Alex Sherwin, who plays Mark, says parents like his prefer their children learn about these things from theater and culture rather than hearing it from them.
“As much as you try to protect your children, it doesn’t always happen that way. You think of a 14-year-old, and you don’t think you’ll be talking about death and AIDS and trauma and homosexuality,” says parent Marcia Goldstein.
Director Brian Kimmel, on the other hand, says “I think we’re in a place and living in a time where it’s OK to push the envelope.”
And during the ongoing debate about how uncensored the student version of the play should be, Kimmel wanted to make sure that there were no double standards — that homosexuality would be as equally represented by Joanne and Maureen as it would be by Collins and Angel.
“I think it’s really important that if we’re going to have moments of physical contact in the show, we go all the way with that. But then if we’re going to have the characters kiss, it shouldn’t necessarily be like a light little peck on the cheek and move along your way. I think the show demands a little more than that,” Kimmel says.
Clearly, when girl-on-girl kissing makes its way into a high-school play, the message isn’t what immediately intrigues people.
“The first question is always ‘Do you have to kiss her?’” says Ebeth Engquist, who plays the lesbian Maureen. “To me it’s not about the fact that she’s a lesbian, it’s the fact that she’s in love with this other person and if that love is shown by me kissing another actress on stage then that’s the show and I’m fine with it.”
Now it's just down to what the audience thinks.
RENT: Student Edition Through Aug. 1. $20-$22. Sat., July 31, 10 p.m. and Sun., Aug. 1, 3 and 7 p.m. Center Theatre, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4002. www.atlantajcc.org.
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