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The Spanos Theatre stage will transform into the Lower East Side of New York, complete with cake-faced drag queens, reckless heroin addicts and starving artists when award-winning rock musical RENT comes to Cal Poly on Oct. 15.

Co-directors Erik Austin and Kristen Towers-Rowles of Kelrik Productions, a San Luis Obispo theater company, will bring to life the story of seven friends, all of whom are living as impoverished young artists and musicians and struggling with the physical and emotional impacts of AIDS.

“AIDS is still a huge epidemic, but it’s just not talked about as much anymore,” Austin said. “The message of RENT is to live for today no matter what is going on. It’s about friendships and love and just living your life.”

RENT is the seventh-longest running show in Broadway history and has made about $280 million during its time on Broadway. After being in production for 12 years, winning a Tony Award for best musical and receiving a Pulitzer Prize, the musical stopped production in September 2008, Austin said.

Maria Chavez, the ticket office supervisor of the Performing Arts Center, thinks that because the musical was so popular on Broadway, people will be excited to see RENT in the San Luis Obispo community.

“A lot of people who have come to buy tickets seemed to know a lot about the Broadway version, so they may be hoping to get that Broadway experience from this show,” Chavez said.

Lauren Feinstein, a business junior, is interested in seeing the production, because she thinks it will be a fun event.

“My high school did a production of RENT, so I think it would be cool to go and see another rendition,” Feinstein said.

Although the story of RENT is not new in the musical theater world, it is the first time that a professional theater company will present the production in San Luis Obispo.
Kelrik Productions received legal permission through Musical Theater International, an agency that issues licenses, scripts and musical materials to amateur and professional theatres worldwide, to present RENT in San Luis Obispo.

“It’s a different kind of show for San Luis Obispo,” Austin said. “It’s so raw and the lyrics and music are so deep and meaningful.”

Not only is it a new kind of show for the San Luis Obispo community, but RENT is also a step in a unique direction for Kelrik Productions.

The company originated in Indiana as a small local theater group established by Austin and his sister Kelly, hence the name “Kelrik.” Both pursuing their passion for theater, they moved to San Luis Obispo in 1988 and began producing family-oriented musicals while they were still in high school.

“I remember one incident in particular where I had to have my parents sign a contract for me because I wasn’t old enough. That was pretty funny,” Austin said.

While all Kelrik Productions’ undertakings are musicals, RENT is unlike previous productions, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

“This is the most different production we’ve ever done,” Austin said. “It’s racy, not family-oriented, and it’s a rock musical. It’s not happy and perky like most of the stuff we’ve done in the past. I’d say it’s a PG-13 show.”

Despite RENT being a new direction for the company, Austin found the fast-paced production process challenging, yet rewarding.

The 16-person cast consists of eight lead actors from Los Angeles and eight ensemble members from San Luis Obispo. Over the past five weeks, Austin has traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo to rehearse with the lead actors Monday through Wednesday and the ensemble actors Thursday through Saturday.

“Sunday is my rest day. It’s when I go have brunch,” Austin said.

On Oct. 11, the eight actors from Los Angeles came up to San Luis Obispo and the cast united as one for the first time to prepare for opening night on Oct. 15.

“The biggest challenge is going to be loading everything into the theater and blending the two companies,” Austin said. “ Everyone is very excited and ready, so hopefully it will go smoothly.”

While the cast brought up numerous props with them on Sunday, the majority of the set has been built over the past three weeks.

“It is a series of stairs, catwalks, scaffolding and platforms as well as hanging fences and abstract junk street pieces,” Austin said.

Despite nerves about the final touches of the process, Austin found that it was very gratifying overall.

“I have enjoyed meeting all these new people,” he said. “I only knew two of the people on the cast before the show. I’m excited to be able to put on a big musical like this and to be the first to bring such a touching show to San Luis Obispo.”

Additionally, since the message of RENT centers around the impacts of AIDS, Kelrik Productions will partner with the AIDS Support Network (ASN), a local non-profit organization. All money donated to ASN at the performances will help San Luis Obispo residents who live with AIDS.

The production of RENT opens on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Alex & Faye Spanos Theatre and will run through Oct. 18. Tickets are $25.50 for seniors and students and range from $25.50 to $27.50 depending on seating for general admission. Tickets can be purchased through thePerforming Arts Center at Cal Poly.

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