525,600 Minutes

“Rent” to be presented in spring 2019 at UH Hilo

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge
Photographer Leah Wyzykowski

The cast of Hilos "Rent" production

How do you measure a year in the life? In daylights? In papers? In sunsets? In midnights or in cups of coffee? There are 525,600 minutes in a year, and only one “Rent” production at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center in Spring 2019.

That’s right, Rent is the production that will be presented on April 5, 6, 12, and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and on April 7 and 14 at 2:00 p.m.

“Rent takes place in the late 80s to early 90s, and it’s about seven principle characters: struggling artists who are friends, who are figuring out how to get by day-to-day, paying their rent, and dealing with the AIDs epidemic, a lot of heartbreak, loss, and death. They learn how to measure their life,” said Danielle Kwami, community member and the actor who plays Maureen in the musical.

“I’m over the moon to be in Rent. In Rent, I am a Jersey girl, and I’m a performance artist, which is what I do for a living. I’m flirtatious, and I previously dated a filmmaker, but that wasn’t really working out, so I was wanting to try being a lesbian, and that seems to be okay. I just like to mess around,” said Kwami, describing her character.

The production is going to be a concoction of all performing arts types, from acting and singing to dancing. The singers and actors auditioned for their roles in the musical, but all of the dancers for Rent are those who are taking Dance Ensemble, DNCE 401, course in the Spring Semester of 2019.

“It’s been fun and stressful at the same time, because everyone is fun to work with, but it’s also stressful having to shove like 40 songs in your head, not literally 40. We’ve learned “Seasons of Love,” “Rent,” “Santa Fe,” “Out Tonight,” and one more. So we’ve learned five songs so far. Most of them are completed. If you’re a dancer in the dance ensemble, they ask you to be in the Rent musical, and if you’re okay with being in the musical, then that’s what you do in spring,” said Kailani Rhyss, Performing Arts and Psychology Major, as well as a dancer in Rent.

“Dance Ensemble has always been the class that does choreographed dances. It’s not necessarily a technique class, but it’s more of a performance-oriented class, so it kind of fell naturally into them. It’s also a time where we, as a department, integrate the dance, the music, and the drama into a project,” said Celeste Staton, a dance instructor at the university and co-choreographer for Rent.

Among the dancers, the song titled “Out Tonight” is one of the favorite songs to dance. “It’s been a lot that we have to memorize. ‘Out Tonight’ is my favorite. It’s very sassy: she’s going out to a club—in the movie it’s a strip club—but we’re not doing that,” said Stella Javier, a linguistics major at the university and dancer in Rent.

Within the entirety of the cast, there are a few people who are making their debut or who are trying something new, along with those who are more experienced performers.“This is actually my first musical after being backstage and as a part tech crew, working my way up. I’m pretty excited,” said Autumn Miyares-Thompson, a performing arts and English student, who plays Joanne in Rent.

To describe her character: “Joanne’s a lawyer, and she’s pretty direct. She’s a straight-shooter. She likes stability and organization, and she does not ever get that from Maureen and I think that’s what keeps it exciting and frustrating,” said Miyares-Thompson.

Some performers, on the other hand, have been ready for this moment for a long time. “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I was obsessed with this show ever since I was a teenager, and I’ve always had a dream of being in this show. Knowing the music, watching the movie and the original Broadway show, and seeing it done at some community theaters: I consider that to be practice,” stated Kwami. She went on to describe how, since being cast as Maureen, Kwami dedicated herself to learning her character through listening to the soundtrack every day, reading up about the play, and showing up early and staying late at rehearsals.

“I saw Rent in the 1990s in Honolulu as part of a national touring production,” said Justina Mattos, producer of Rent and an assistant professor of performing arts at UH Hilo. “I just really fell in love with it. What I loved about it was that the 1990s was a period of time when people were really examining ethnic relations, and sometimes the strife that could happen between different ethnicities.”

“In Rent,” continued Mattos, “you have all these people of different ethnicities, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different genders, different sexual orientations, all of those things, and none of it mattered. None of it mattered because they were all fighting something much bigger than that, and that was the AIDs epidemic. That is what I loved about it: to see such diversity in the cast, and none of it was an issue.”

Just as producers have their reasons for sharing certain productions, performers have their reasons for auditioning and performing in those productions as well. “Oh, I love Rent! It’s actually the first musical that I became aware of. That was a long time ago, probably about 15 years ago, whenever it came out. I like playing weird characters that surprise the audience. I like surprising the audience in general. I’m playing Gordon, who is a guy with HIV in a support group, and I’m also playing the waiter, a cop, and various homeless guys,” said Ricky Alvarez, a community member and actor in Rent.

“I heard about the Rent auditions, so I auditioned and didn’t get a part, sadly, but I was asked to be a part of the dance ensemble, so I joined,” said Kaeo Cachola, a community member and dancer in Rent. “I was a singer and actor type of person but dancing was left out, so when one of my teachers told me I should try to start dancing, I just joined and found out that it’s very fun and that all people in the dance community are very friendly and nice to be around.”

With any show comes certain challenges. Rent in particular is a complex show with several moving parts. “I would say one of the challenges we face is that we are not working on the sets until the set is onstage. We have three or four different levels we are working with, so it’s going to be a spatial challenge,” said Staton.

The cast, including the dance ensemble are practicing their various routines several times a week. “For rehearsals, we meet five nights a week for four hours a night. We meet for at least 20 hours in rehearsal if not more. It’s intense. It’s a complex show, so that much rehearsal is necessary. Our cast has 29 people, including the dance ensemble. When you see our set, it’s multi-leveled, so that’s a lot of bodies to cram onto the stage,” Mattos shared.

“I would say the hardest process is that there are so many dances that have to be done in a really short amount of time. So that would be the hardest thing. I wouldn’t say that one piece is necessarily harder than another, but just that there’s a time crunch. So even though the show is a month away, it’s getting the choreography completed really quickly,” said Kea Kapahua, a lecturer at UH Hilo and co-choreographer for Rent.

As for the importance of the production, Mattos said, “For one thing, AIDs is a continuing issue. Although there is treatment for it now, it is still a life threatening disease. Once it stopped being an absolute death sentence, people became a little more relaxed and less vigilant about protecting themselves, and because of that cases are on the rise again. It’s important to keep that in our consciousness. I also like to find ways to spread the message of unity, and Rent is just a wonderful story that shares that message.”