CTAA’s “Rent, School Edition” Hits the PCCC Stage

Maya Hirano , Reporter

On Sept. 28-30 at Pearl City Cultural Center (PCCC), students from MHS, as well as students from Kapolei, Radford, Castle, Kaimuki and Kalani High School performed in “Rent, School Edition” put on by the Central Theatre Arts Academy (CTAA). “Rent” is a rock musical which originally came out in 1996 and has been adapted into the school edition in order to make it more suitable for younger actors and actresses. It is set in the 1980s and focuses on the lives of artists struggling to survive in the east side of New York. The themes revolve around mature topics such as drugs, AIDS, sexual identity, loss and relationships.

    “I think the hardest part is connecting with their characters, because none of them have experienced what these characters in ‘Rent’ have experienced. For me, the challenge is getting them to come to a place where they can one, understand their character, and then emulate and really tell the story of their character in a way that means something special to them,” said director and performing arts teacher Carolyn Taira.

    Through CTAA, Taira has previously done shows such as “James and the Giant Peach,” “12 Angry Men,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Almost, Maine.” “Rent” was Taira’s first musical with an abundance of mature themes. “I know that it’s a good piece, and I know that it’s a way to get kids from all different schools involved and excited because of the content and it speaks to them in a different way,” said Taira.  

    The cast had been rehearsing since mid August. Junior Amelie Valenzuela, who played the role of Joanne Jefferson, had also acted in “The Little Mermaid and “James and the Giant Peach.”  “I was really surprised at first, because I didn’t think we would do ‘Rent’ since it was mature. The rate we’ve been going at, it was more of a children’s sort, because we did ‘Little Mermaid’ before and ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ and they were more all around ages,” said Valenzuela.

    With cast members being from various high schools around O’ahu, students got the chance to meet new people who share their passion for acting. The students also gained more awareness and confidence working with the heavier themes. “I think for sure they learn trust; they learn how to trust themselves, and to trust their cast. Especially in a piece like this where it’s a lot more intimate, they really have to feel like it’s a safe place for them to really tell the story,” said Taira. Valenzuela added, “We’ve learned more about being safer with themes such as sex and drugs and stuff like that. Rent centers around AIDS and drug addiction, so it was cool to be more aware of those things.”

    To help them deepen their understanding of the show, the students were required to research the set time period. They learned more about the AIDS epidemic that was going on during the 1980s, as well as how society was in that time compared to now. Taira also guided them through the process of bringing their characters to life. “She gives very precise direction so you know exactly what to do. Even beside that, her as a teacher and as a person, I can really lean on her for support or anything that I’m having trouble with, even not just as playing my character but also in general with life stuff. With acting she’s really good; she knows her vision and she knows what she wants to put on that stage, so it’s nice that she gives us good direction,” said Valenzuela.

    This musical is a change of pace from the more family friendly CTAA shows of the past.  While entertainment remains important, it is not the only message that the production wants the audience to get out of “Rent.” “As someone’s coming in and watching it, I want them to get the entertainment value, but I want them also to understand where society was and be able to be put into that situation or time as they’re watching it,” said music theory teacher and “Rent” music director Kristi Higuchi-Delos Santos.

    CTAA hopes to put on more  musicals like “Rent” in the future, as these experiences are an important opportunity for the students and the community.