Stage Shows

Youth Theatre Tackles Adult Content With “Rent”

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CYC Associate Artist Luke Marinkovich (Roger), Merri Baehr (Mimi) and CYC Associate Artist Josh Pinkowski (Mark) in CYC's Rent.

Luke Marinkovich (Roger), Merri Baehr (Mimi) and Josh Pinkowski (Mark) in CYC's "Rent."

rent_logoThe California Youth Conservatory Theatre is tackling a very adult subject with its current production of Rent, playing through July 5 at the Lyceum Theatre in San Diego. A rock musical based loosely on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to create in New York’s Lower East Side, exploring their diverse sexuality, fighting drug addictions and surviving in the shadow of AIDS. At its core, it is a story of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

So why would a youth theatre stage such a mature show? CYC’s Artistic Director and Company Founder, Shaun Evans, is quick to answer that question. Because it’s relevant, he said, on multiple levels.

“On a practical level, a lot of people like it,” Evans said, adding, “and no youth theater has ever done it before. We like to do things that are bold, daring and first.” That philosophy is part of the theatre company’s purpose. “CYC Theatre strives to produce challenging, inclusively diverse projects in addition to traditional musical theatre,” reads an excerpt from its mission statement.

Evans, who is also director of the show, even goes a step further and said there is a “spiritual” reason to have the youth group produce Rent. With all the advances in HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual education and medical treatments, the number of cases is on the increase, not on the decrease. “It’s frightening to know the number of cases is on the rise in kids under 17, which is the age group I work with,” Evans explained.

(The County of San Diego Public Health Services shows an infection increase in the youth population in the past five years, growing from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent of all new HIV cases.)

rent2Still, the performing cast had to work hard to make their current production honest. “Most of them auditioned because they were Rent fans. Very few of them had personal connection to the material.” Evens said some of the cast members are gay (like a few of their characters), but no one is living with HIV or had lost a friend to AIDS.

CYC brought in a few people who could relate to the show, including people who are HIV positive. The theatre also brought in a guest artist to conduct an exclusive, week-long workshop: original Broadway cast member Rodney Hicks (he originated the role of Benny).

“Now, (the cast) feels like they are all part of something grand, beyond just having a part in a musical,” Evans said.

And their production is grand. It is the first youth theatre in the world to produce the full-score version of Rent. CYC had considered doing the high school version of the show (with edits and revisions to adapt the show to a younger audience), but opted to stage the full, unedited production instead.

“I happen to be on the phone with the licensing company (to discuss another show) when the rights for the full version of Rent became available,” Evans said. Within a few days, CYC had the green light. “That is a big deal for us, to be the first youth company to ever do it.

“Not a single thing that was cut,” he continued. “It’s the full-blown edition.” With that in mind, the show still carries a warning: Rent contains strong language and mature content. For mature audiences.

Presented by the California Youth Conservatory
Through July 5
Tickets: $24-30 with discounts for students, military and seniors

Performed at the Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Place (in Horton Plaza)
Box Office: 619-544-1000


  1. RyanH

    June 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Bravo! It’s refreshing to see young actors performing topics that everyone should be talking about, regardless of age.

  2. Peggy

    June 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Rent-head alert! Front of the line, front row of the theater, I am there. This will be my 15th time seeing the show, maybe 16 times if I can change my plans on Sunday!!! <3

  3. LEXI

    June 29, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    WHOA! everyone needs to see this ASAP!!!1 ive seen it twice now, it is BRILLIANT! the acting, singing, set, lighting, music/band, all of it is FANTASTIC!
    i recomend it to alll and think you will love it!

  4. Bobby

    June 30, 2009 at 10:34 am

    What’s “rent-head” mean?

  5. Jonathan Young

    June 30, 2009 at 10:55 am

    A Rent-head is a fan of the musical “Rent” — similar to a Deadhead, which is the common name for Grateful Dead fans.

    The original Broadway producers catered to this fan base. They offered 34 seats in the front two rows for $20 (a bargain for a Broadway show), two hours before the performance.

  6. Lonny Floe

    February 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the subject and found most persons will agree with your website.

  7. Alexander

    December 31, 2015 at 7:25 am

    “For adults only”, should be the warning label of this mature content, indeed however, the warning label applies to the performers as well as the producers of this challenging production. Rent, with its full script of 27 songs in the first act and 19 in the second demanding seasoned professionals to carry it forward. The producer/director should have not subjected the audience to this full length script without the talent base to pull it off. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. This junior version of rent is not believable with the cast of teens and twenty year olds playing dying drug addicts and street artists. It just doesn’t seem genuine. The mostly teen age audience expressed hooping joy for the show however this middle age viewer found it to be long and overly taxing in much need for editing.
    If the director had cut down the show to the top 15 songs with the strongest soloists and limited its run time to 90 minutes instead of its lengthy 2-1/2 hours it could have been excellent as a production. The choral sections with the entire cast singing were its strongest moments with some trios and duets having sections of strength, otherwise it was often weak and reminiscent of middle-school productions with microphone problems, lack of projecting, and the inability to carry the story forward with power.
    The story of Rent leaves much to be desired as it portrays the street life of drug and sex crazed LGBT artists in the mid 90’s. The openly gay and lesbian, as well as transgender drag queen is front and center in the story. The heartbreak of HIV/AID’s is one of the main topics. There appears to be no moral compass leading north in the show only brokenness, regret, and love as the answer to one’s pain. A parachute is used to cover the undulation of supposedly multiple partners in the free-sex anything goes sex clubbing scene with Angel emerging before her death. The parachute becomes his/her dress in a symbolic gesture of transcendence to the after-life.
    The show makes no connection between one’s behavior in this life and accountability in the next. The only reference to God is by cursing and the message of Christmas is deliberately marred by suffering and drowned-out by intensionally poorly sung carols. The author’s anger and frustration in dealing with death and dying is apparent in several songs.

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