Young People's Center for Creative Arts presents 'Rent'

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
East Hampton - posted Mon., Jul. 25, 2011
Conor Grady (left) and Mason Passavant play roommates in the YPCCA production of 'Rent.' Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Conor Grady (left) and Mason Passavant play roommates in the YPCCA production of 'Rent.' Photos by Kevin Hotary.

The musical “Rent” tells a tale of young artists struggling for day-to-day survival in New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1980’s.  Living in the constant shadow of near poverty and the ever-increasing, but not yet fully understood, menace of HIV/AIDS, the characters strive to make their dreams a reality.   The show premiered off-Broadway in 1996, exactly 100 years after the premier of “La Boheme,” Giacomo Puccini’s opera upon which the story and many of the characters of “Rent” are based, and ran for 12 years, winning numerous awards, including a Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

This week, July 28 through the 30, the East Hampton High School stage will host “Rent – School Edition” presented by the Young People’s Center for Creative Arts (YPCCA) for their annual summer show.  While the show addresses some mature themes, the school edition has been crafted for young performers, and is appropriate for children aged 13 and above.

“’Rent’ is a very different show from what we’ve done in the past,” said Conor Grady, who plays HIV-positive musician Roger.  “Rent” is Grady’s fifth, and final, YPPCA production.  As one of the older performers, he relishes his role as a kind of mentor to some of the younger campers, particularly when dealing with some of the themes of “Rent.”

“It’s a good way for the younger campers to be exposed to these things.  It’s [‘Rent’] about diversity and accepting people, and that’s what YPCCA is about,” he said.

Kevin Paley started with YPCCA, playing in the ensemble when he was 11 years old.   Now in his ninth show, he is playing a lead role as Tom Collins, a gay philosophy professor.

“It’s something to start in the ensemble and admire the lead actors.  Your goal is to become that role model for the younger kids.  To keep that cycle going,” he said. 

“Rent,” he said, “defined a generation.  And it defines YPCCA as well.”   And while portraying a gay character is very different for him, “everybody in YPCCA is so supportive in getting into character,” he said. 

“The impact of this role is by far the largest I’ve ever had a part in,” he said, particularly in a scene where he sings at the funeral of Collins’ boyfriend, who died from AIDS.  Even in rehearsal, he said, the scene draws tears from the other cast members.

According to Bobbie Esposito, who plays Maureen in the production, “’Rent’ is one of those shows that makes you fall in love with the theater.”  With characters based on people that the show’s writer actually knew, “We’re as close as it gets to playing real people,” she said.  And the empathetic reaction of cast members to Collins’ funeral song is, she believes, a defining characteristic of YPCCA.

“This show is about eight friends who aren’t related by blood, but are as close to being a family as it gets.  It sounds clichéd, but that’s what YPCCA is about.  We can’t get enough of each other,” she said.     

“Rent – School Edition” is showing at 7 p.m. July 28 – 30, and at 2 p.m. on July 31, at the East Hampton High School Auditorium.  Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and veterans, and are available at the door or online at ypcca.org.


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