In celebration of its 20th anniversary as an international smash hit, the Interlochen Arts Academy is bringing the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play “Rent” to Northern Michigan in May.

This will be the first time that Interlochen will present the popular play, but the school’s connection is decades old. Actor Anthony Rapp, who is best known for originating the role of Mark Cohen in the Broadway production of “Rent” in 1996, attended Interlochen Arts Camp where he studied acting for two years. He continues to teach master classes there and at Interlochen Arts Academy.

We talked with Director of Theatre Arts William Church about the upcoming performances of the award-winning play and Interlochen’s connection to it.

How has this play influenced American theatre?

“Rent” was a landmark production in American musical theatre history. Creator Jonathon Larson set out to reinvent musical theatre as a mixture of traditional Broadway sounds and the pop/rock music of the time when it was written. He certainly succeeded! “Rent” brought in a much younger audience to Broadway and that generation has now gone on to either create their own theatrical work or become passionate advocates of the arts. We can also trace a lineage of groundbreaking work that began with “Hair,” continued with “Rent,” influenced “Spring Awakening” and can now be seen on Broadway in “Hamilton.” All of these works appeal to a younger audience more than a traditional Broadway musical and use popular music as a main vehicle for storytelling.

In the 20 years since “Rent” first appeared on Broadway, how have theatre and society evolved?

I like to think that society has become more accepting of all types of peoples and lifestyles. A major theme of “Rent” is acceptance of all: ‘To being an us for once, instead of a them,’ is an important lyric in “La Vie Boheme.” “Rent” celebrates people of all types and encourages acceptance and empathy. While society has changed some in this regard, perhaps seeing the production today can remind us that there is still more work to be done.

In terms of theatre, the art form continues to evolve in many ways. Pop and rock music can be found in many more successful productions on Broadway these days and the themes of empathy and celebrating life still resonate deeply in both plays and musicals.

This is the first time Interlochen is presenting the play, how are rehearsals going and how are the students reacting to the play?

Rehearsals have been going very well. I was concerned that “Rent” may be outside of the interests of some of our students; seeing it for the first time was a major event for me when I was younger, but all of these students have grown up with the play as part of their theatrical vocabulary—I was concerned that the impact of it may not be as profound. I have been very pleased with how students have responded to “Rent.” They are just as excited to be working on this production as I am and have been very diligent in researching the time period and HIV/AIDS. “Rent” has the same appeal to this younger generation as it did to my generation when it first came out.

Is Anthony Rapp helping with the production?

I have been in contact with Anthony about this production and he is very pleased that Interlochen is staging “Rent” 20 years after the opening.

Are there any additional challenges or considerations when presenting an award-winning play?

“Rent” is a very iconic piece and we all feel a great pressure to serve this important and inspiring play. As we go through rehearsals, we are trying to make sure we are paying homage to the original while still making appropriate staging choices for our actors. Some of the material is a little racy for high schools, but Interlochen is a unique environment, and I am very pleased that we will be presenting “Rent” in its entirety with no alterations. One of the joys of working on award-winning material is that you know how well-written it actually is.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Not only are the theatre arts students working on “Rent,” but several of our very talented music students will be playing the rock score. “Rent” is a true collaboration between our theatre students and the music students who get a chance to rock out on their instruments and play some music that is rarely heard at Interlochen. This is our first rock musical in Corson Auditorium!

“Rent” will run on Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14 at Corson Auditorium. For more information or to order tickets, contact the Interlochen Box Office at 231.276.7800 or visit

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Photo(s) by Interlochen Arts Academy