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“It doesn’t matter who you love, but that you love”: Collective Theatrics brings RENT to life in Fredericton while tackling heavy themes

The starving artist, the misfit, the drug addict, the rocker and the lover: all of these intriguing and powerful character types are key players in RENT, the iconic rock-opera musical written by Jonathan Larson that has now been performed the world over.

Collective Theatrics, a community theatre group based in Fredericton, has decided to take on the heavy-hitting yet entertaining show with performances scheduled for Feb. 1 to 3—part of the Fredericton Winter Pride series of events—at FHS’s Tom Morrison Theatre for $20 a ticket. The group is ready to perform the story of young artists in New York City’s East Village struggling to make a life for themselves in the midst of social change and the rise of the HIV/AIDS virus, all set to an incredible score sung by talented local performers.

With emotionally intense themes, the community-based theatre has assembled a group of dedicated actors and production crew, skilled enough to work at “a semi-professional level in terms of the theatre they make,” said Richard Duijnstee, playing the role of Tom Collins in the show.

Duijnstee is a Fredericton local who has been working with Collective Theatrics for 1.5 years, and this is currently his fourth production with the group. His character is a dynamic and radical professor that “is in one of the romantic relationships in the show, and he is involved with the drag-queen Angel, who later dies from AIDS. We see him going through the stages of falling in love, being with a person and saying goodbye to his love.” said Duijnstee. With a background in professional theatre—a run of twelve years—he was impressed by Collective Theatrics’ “very high standards.”

Community theatre is often dismissed as “amateur,” implying that it produces lower quality shows, but Duijnstee insists that “the energy and commitment that people have put into [the production] really translates well onto the stage—and having been involved in previous productions, I can say that was true in the past as well.”

The benefit of community theatre is that an audience is able to “see the whole spectrum of talent” according to Duijnstee, and that the work is done “purely for the love of theatre” rather than for an income, as can be the case with paid professionals.

Such quality of performance and technical skill is important for a show like RENT, as it’s not easy for any cast to grapple with the seriousness of its themes. “We look differently at the topics like the LGBTQ + community, because in the 90s people were still wondering what they were doing—and now it’s hopefully just more and more integrated into society, and for lack of a better word, normalized,” said Duijnstee.

Along with the focus on the LGBTQ+ community during the 90s comes an important acknowledgement of the AIDS spread during that time, and Collective Theatrics is making a strong effort to bring attention to the issue.

“We actually have three evening shows and a matinee on Saturday, and we’re engaging in a round-table discussion open to the public—even if you didn’t buy tickets. It’s going to be done in association with AIDS New Brunswick, and they will be there to inform anyone who wants to know how we dealt with that in the 90s, and the progress we’ve made to today dealing with and curbing that disease,” said Duijnstee.

Along with the skilled actors, the sensitive subject matter is supported by entertaining music throughout, as “the show is basically through-composed, and there’s singing from the beginning to the end…It’s a rock show—a rock musical, or a rock opera if you will. We are performing with a very good live band that enhances the whole atmosphere of what it’s supposed to be, and the songs range from pop to more on the rock end of the spectrum.”

Through all of RENT’s difficult emotional moments, Duijnstee says audiences will leave with “the most important message of the show being that through all of these hardships, love and friendship will survive. That sounds kind of corny, maybe, but it’s true, and it’s the most important thing in life: it doesn’t matter who you love, but that you love.”

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