Virtual “Rent” Production Brings (Seasons of) Love to Andover’s Community

A line of cast members standing side by side on the Great Lawn opened the virtual production of “Rent.” A series of six videos showcased 11 songs from Jonathan Larson’s musical, “Rent,” that introduced the musical’s themes of love, struggle, and identity. Audience member Allie Chung ’23 revealed that she felt the production was unique and innovative.

“It was awesome to see the hard work, dedication, and coordination that was put into making such a moving, virtual piece. I think especially during this time when we often feel disconnected, this musical brings a sense of community and love, truly embodying the messages in ‘Rent,’” said Chung.

“Rent,” a collaboration between the Theater and Dance Department and Music Department, required extensive teamwork between students both on and off campus. After cast members recorded their voice tracks, the sound was mixed, and videos were recorded separately and laid on top of audio tracks. Cast member Bianca Rodriguez Pagano ’21 recalled her experience rehearsing on campus.

“The kids who were on campus for fall term, you know, we [would] go to the dance studio, and there’d be this huge screen… in the middle of the dance studio, and you could see our faces on it. And that’s how we practiced,” said Rodriguez Pagano.

Abbey Siegfried, Instructor and Chair of the Music Department, revealed in an email to The Phillipian that she and Erin Strong, Instructor in Theater and Dance, had talked about putting on a production of “Rent” pre-pandemic, but ultimately felt its message was even more poignant amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Once the pandemic really hit, it seemed like an incredible choice of show to do at this time. ‘Rent’ takes place during the AIDS epidemic and is based on ‘La Bohème,’ an opera that takes place during the cholera pandemic. It is also a story of identity, community, and love triumphing over challenge,” said Siegfried.

According to Siegfried, the 11 songs were selected in order to help give everyone a solo and convey the show’s main storyline. The songs were then grouped by themes—relationships, role of artists in society, loss, and love.

“At the beginning, [when] we talked about whatever songs we were supposed to do, and talked about the message, it always landed somewhere with love. And then we had kids tell stories over Zoom, and we would all just listen,” said Rodriguez Pagano.

Rodriguez Pagano described some of the communication and technical difficulties of creating the production on Zoom, such as having hybrid class discussions that required speaking into a microphone to be heard by everybody. However, Rodriguez Pagano was ultimately grateful that the show was able to be created and shown.

“We all bonded over the fact that [Covid-19] and quarantine itself is very depressing, and we were able to channel anything that we were feeling into this music, which is why I think it ended up being as touching as it was,” said Rodriguez Pagano.

After describing the process of putting together “Rent” as one of the most challenging, exciting, and innovative rehearsal processes she has ever been a part of, Siegfried expressed her enthusiasm for future virtual projects involving the Music Department.

“The Music Department will be releasing musical ‘shorts’ on the remaining Sundays of Winter Term. They are released to our department YouTube channel and are there for people to tune in to whenever they want a musical moment during their week… I am always excited to start talking with the amazing Theater and Dance Department about what’s next,” said Siegfried.

Editor’s Note: Bianca Rodriguez Pagano is a Live Editor for The Phillipian.