Rent will no longer be the musical after concerns are raised by students


Talula Cedar-James

The theater department decided not to do Rent due to complaints from students over diversity in casting. “A bunch of students who are queer identifying and people of color went to the adults who made the decision and said that they don’t think they could accurately cast these roles,” said Stephen Oberhardt, South’s theater director.

Helen Worku, Staff Writer

On October 8, the theater department officially announced that Rent will not be the musical this year. Prior to this decision, several students at South had voiced concerns about doing Rent because they feared they couldn’t properly cast black and queer roles within the time frame.

Stephen Oberhardt, the theater director, said, “A bunch of students who are queer identifying and people of color went to the adults who made the decision and said that they don’t think they could accurately cast these roles.” He continued,  “I think it’s an extraordinary use of student voice and I admire it like crazy.”

The theater staff later sent out an email saying that they were officially not doing Rent. In an email sent out by Stephen Oberhardt, it says, “I am sending out this email to inform you that we are changing the musical from Rent this year due to concerns regarding our ability to cast the show and tell the story accurately.”

The musical was announced to students last June, but some students felt uneasy about the decision, according to Cor Barnhill, a student director and actor in the theater program. “There was a lot of apprehension among the students who weren’t sure how we were going to pull it off, so then we approached the teachers at the end of the summer.” He also thinks as a program we should be pushing for more diversity, but he doesn’t think it’s possible to get done before auditions in December. 

He also added that he thinks overall the theater department does their best and really tries to make everything as good in representational and as progressive as possible. “Like many theater organizations they run into problems,” he said.

Jordan Dotson, a student director and actor, said, “Personally I am not in favor of it, I guess that’s really for a few reasons. I think my big argument is for the diversity in Rent because obviously South is a pretty diverse school, but the theater program isn’t that diverse, and I think to pull of a show like Rent that’s like written and has stories of people of color in it that we need to have the representation of people of color playing certain roles and we don’t have that right now.” 

Cor Barnhill said, “I don’t know the numbers of like the larger south high community…Eight or nine seniors who have been in theater all their years and all of them are against Rent, and pretty much every junior I’ve talked to…I have yet to talk to a student who is emphatically for it.” However, Oberhardt also said he talked to students who were both for and against Rent.

Oberhardt also said the theater program plans on making a student advisor committee to ensure the student voice is heard when choosing productions.