Keeping up with the and the kids

 Joe Nierle, director of OSCT, gives pointers to his young cast of RENT.

Keeping up with rent is enough of a struggle, but imagine handling more than 20 kids, too! Joe Nierle, director and founder of Open Space Café Theatre, takes on both challenges in his upcoming musical production, RENT.

The show will be the second of the returning theater’s seventh season after being absent from the scene for more than a year. The cast consists of 22 actors between the ages of 14 and 20.

“It’s a great group of kids to have,” Nierle said. “Many of them have other theater experience so they know the (rehearsal and acting) process and they’re really very responsible and mature about how they’re approaching it. (They’re) really finding deeper meaning in the show.”

Now most wouldn’t think of the Cat Scratch Club as a place for children, nor would they think that kids would know anything about paying their landlord on time or dealing with HIV/AIDS, but Nierle reminds us that RENT, the Tony Awardwinning rock musical, actually speaks to a much higher message—one that his young cast can tune into.

“It speaks to their generation with the rock music,” Nierle said, “and with the whole idea of living for today and embracing every moment that you have. And I think that’s perfect for them. We’ve even talked about putting down the textbook sometimes and getting out and living life.”

“All of the cast really know the show well, too,” Nierle added. “Teenagers love the show.”

For anyone who needs a refresher on the play’s plot, written by playwright Jonathan Larson, it follows a group of struggling musicians and artists—poor, of course—in New York City who struggle with love, success, poverty, HIV/AIDS and other demons that result when living in contrast to modernday society.

It premiered on Broadway in 1996 and had a 12-year run after winning a Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Musical.

On its new home stage at Carolina Theatre, Open Space Café Theatre will have new staging opportunities thanks to the larger space.

For starters, the set consists of platforms and scaffolding on which the cast can climb and jump from, which allows for higher energy and more interesting movement.

The theater has also developed a permanent seating chart for the audience, so patrons can purchase reserved seating.

Not only will the production include a live four-piece rock band and a multi-level set, but it will also be presented “in the round,” meaning the audience will completely surround the stage.

“Because it’s an intimate space, the message can be more right in the face of the audience,” Nierle said. “(The audience) is going to feel really drawn into what is going on because of the intimacy of the space.”

Nierle says that using RENT as part of the theater’s Rising Star Teen Theatre Group sets the production apart from others by, “adding a sense of authenticity to it.”

“These kids don’t have the kind of biases and prejudices that an older generation may have,” Nierle added. “The kids really relate to it, and what we’re working on is letting it come from their hearts.”

The purest message from RENT is simply that we all would benefit from coming out of our shell, being comfortable with who we are, and reaching out to life. What better cast to present that idea than one that faces that struggle everyday? !


Open Space Café Theatre’s production of RENT runs July 16-19 on The Crown Stage at the Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St. , Greensboro. Tickets are $24; $20 for students and seniors. For tickets and more information visit or call 333-2605.