‘Rent’ is due at Clark College

Student production tackles musical about love in time of AIDS

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



 Photo Gallery: Clark College presents "Rent"

Clark College student will perform teh rock musical "Rent" this month.

If you go

What: Clark College Theatre presents “Rent.”

Where: Decker Theater, Clark College Frost Arts Center, 1933 Ford Vancouver Way.

When: 7:30 p.m. March 1, 7, 8 and 9; 2 p.m. March 2.

Cost: $10 for students and alumni, $12 for senior citizens, $15 general admission. Tickets available at the door or at the Clark College Bookstore.

Info: The theater's website or call 360-992-2815.

Acting in the Clark College production of “Rent” has been a broadening experience for James Martine, a first-semester student in the school’s theater program.

The rock musical production looks at a group of struggling young artists and musicians in New York’s Lower East Side during the AIDS epidemic. It’s the most complex play he’s ever participated in, and the most broad, the 2012 Battle Ground High School graduate said.

“This show has been like an entirely new experience,” said Martine, who plays Tom Collins, a gay anarchist with AIDS. “Through the process, we sat down and talked about how we felt about the production, how we felt about AIDS. In everything else I’ve done, we just sat down and had a read-through; but this show, it’s very focused on the actors being comfortable with each other.”

The show runs on select dates through March 9 at the school’s Decker Theater.

Director H. Gene Biby, who’s been teaching theater at the college since September 2011, said one of his goals in picking “Rent” was to put together a production that spoke to students and other young people in the community.

“The show addresses issues of love and what that means in different forms, tolerance of people who are different and also those facing the challenges of a (deadly) disease,” Biby said. “The actors learn things about singing, dancing, acting, but they also learn lessons as human beings in the outside world.”

The show originally premiered on Broadway in 1996 and won several awards, including the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It was the ninth-longest running Broadway show, closing on Sept. 7, 2008 after a 12-year run and 5,124 performances. It was also made into a film in 2005.

Being a part of it has been an amazing experience for Martine, who said he caught the acting bug after performing in “basically every single Prairie Ground (Drama Club) production from sophomore to senior year.”

“The toughest part of this show was getting comfortable with everybody,” Martine said. “It’s a very physical show. And we’ve learned to be comfortable (as actors) kissing someone of the same gender, falling in love with somebody of the same gender.”

The eight main characters in the play are in a variety of sexual relationships, but oddly enough, as part of the acting preparation “the couple that was most awkward was the guy and the girl,” Martine said with a laugh.

The show, with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème,” but set in a different city and era.

“It really speaks to the college-age demographic in terms of it’s a bunch of bohemian young people in New York in the 1990s,” Biby said.

Biby readily acknowledges that “Rent” isn’t a production for everybody. It’s likely that this is the first time the show has been performed in Southwest Washington, he added.

“It’s an opportunity to see one of the most popular musicals in modern history,” Biby said. “It’s a social issue play with new ideas and concepts.”

A more practical reason for selecting “Rent” is that it has several roles for the school’s growing number of actors, Biby said.

That’s part of an overall strategy: expand the theater program at Clark College.

About 30 students are involved in the production, and the school has about 20 students that are consistently active in its drama club, Biby said.

“We would eventually like to add at least a summer show, but first we need to get course development and other aspects of our academic year put together (for the expanding program),” he said.

Job opportunities in the theater arts vary. A few of Biby’s students want to become teachers, and some are on a more technical track. Acting is by far the slimmest market, but there are still jobs in the area with some TV and film productions that are based here, he said.

“You have to be 100 percent dedicated to act professionally,” Biby said.

And that’s Martine’s dream.

Martine decided to go to Clark College in part because it was close to home, but also because the theater program there is growing, he said.

“Last semester, I went and saw the production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and I knew I had to audition for the next production,” Martine said.

After he graduates from Clark College he hopes to transfer to Portland State University or perhaps a college in California to continue his education in arts, music, theater and acting. His goal is to eventually become a professional actor, he said.

“Wherever I end up, it doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m acting somewhere,” Martine said. “I love it.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevosue.vorenberg@columbian.com