By Rachel Chen
It’s just another Thursday evening. Furman’s campus is its usual state, calm and quiet everywhere—that is, everywhere except McAlister auditorium. One step into the lobby and immediately loud conversations are heard between cast members bustling with excitement, followed by a pianist warming up with a few chords. Director Kristen Layne, a senior English major, sits at the center of the auditorium as she oversees the whole production—Rent.
Rehearsals have been going on for a few months now, beginning with auditions that started way back in October. Sophomore Jordan Hankins is playing Joanne, one of the main characters. She said the whole process has been a little overwhelming, having been in Spring Awakening and then immediately gone into more rehearsals for Rent, just days after the last show.
“I’m very excited about the role, I’ve never played a lead like this before, unless you count the villain I played in Once Upon A Mattress!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, “But it’s definitely also a lot of work. We meet almost everyday, and it definitely takes up a lot of time in my schedule.”
Other members of the production agree, including Kevin Hong, another sophomore who landed a big role, the cross dresser Angel Dumott Schunard. He agreed with Jordan that there are days when he feels like he doesn’t have time to catch his breath but insisted that the process has been worth it.
“I’ve never really been cast in any kind of play or musical production before, so this experience is very new to me. A lot of things turned out to be harder then I thought it would be—and a lot of effort—but it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had!” he said with a smile.
Cast member Cara Langston has been in several productions before, but like Jordan, this is her first major lead. On her feelings towards playing the somewhat more provocative character Maureen Johnson, who is bisexual, she said, “I was beyond excited when I was cast, because Maureen is the most demanding role that I’ve ever gotten. She’s a very wild character and requires a lot of confidence to portray well. Maureen definitely puts me outside of my comfort zone, but the role will push me to grow as an actress.”
At another rehearsal, this time in Harper Hall, the members take on the challenge of learning what seems like rather difficult dance steps to the song “Tango Maureen,” one of the biggest dance numbers in the musical. Though they are under a lot of pressure as the first show is coming up soon, on Feb. 7, the atmosphere is still bursting with energy and optimism. Tierney Breedlove, Madison Dunaway, and Elyse Marder are choreographing the dance numbers as well as others. Ben Keiper is the music director.
This is Layne’s first time directing a musical, and she said that it has been a humbling experience as she has had to ask people more talented than herself for help to create an entertaining but seriously themed musical like Rent. She said that directing requires greater organizational skills than she would have ever imagined.
Students from Braiser Middle College, a charter high school, are creating the backdrop for the set. It features symbols from the musical, which are being converted into the New York skyline. Opening night is Feb. 7, and performances will run through Feb. 10. Tickets will be presold at the Trone Center as well as on ticketmaster.com.