Measure a Year in Love: Catawba College and Lee Street theatre present RENT

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, November 6, 2014

By Cheyenne Hicks and Verity Pryor-Harden. Lee Street theatre

In this first ever collaboration between the Catawba College Theatre Arts Department and Lee Street theatre, a sense of community is illuminated in their production of the Tony Award winning rock musical, RENT. This collaboration is a chance for Justin Dionne, managing artistic director of Lee Street theatre, and Elizabeth Homan, Catawba associate professor of theatre, to co-direct and produce a performance that hones in on the importance of community.

What makes this production unique in comparison to other Catawba College productions is that the cast is compiled of not only Catawba Theatre Arts students, but also Catawba alumni and community members from all over.

RENT, written by Jonathan Larson, is sponsored by Mona and Lee Wallace, Whitney and Brandon Williams, and Lane Wallace.

RENT will be running two weekends: Nov. 13-15 at 7:30 p.m. in Catawba College’s Hedrick Little Theater, 2300 W Innes St.; and the following week, Nov. 20-22, at 7:30 p.m. with a 2:30 p.m. matinee performance on Nov. 22, at Lee Street Theater and Performing Arts Center, 329 N. Lee St.

How you gonna pay…for your ticket? Contact the Catawba College box office at 704-637-4481, or Lee Street theatre at 704-310-5507 to purchase tickets. You can also buy online at or

While this isn’t the first collaboration between Lee Street theatre and Catawba Theatre Arts students, it is certainly the biggest. In February of this year, a handful of Catawba students from The Blue Masque performed Catawba LIVE @ Lee Street, a cabaret-style benefit for NCTC in the brand-new Lee Street theatre venue, which just opened last November. Also in February, Catawba Theatre Arts collaborated with Ballet Pensacola under the co-direction of ’88 alumnus Richard Steinert and Elizabeth Homan. It is the hope of Dionne and Homan that this larger-scale collaboration will pave the way for similar projects in the future.

In this “truly beautiful and unique project,” as described by Pen Chance, who is a senior at Catawba portraying the role of Roger, this process has been a great way to bring people together from all over the community. Karina Moran, a community member from Concord playing the role of Joanna Jefferson, feels that this collaboration is crucial because it shows “that the dream is still alive. That there is still a strong community of learners who want to move an audience with their talents.”

According to Willow Catherine, a member of the Ensemble from Salisbury, this large cast easily formed strong friendships: “We all mesh very well together in a way that should almost be impossible for a group of over twenty actors.” Because of these friendships, the one thing that Vanessa Burkhart hopes to take away from the production is, “simply good, special memories.” Georgia native Daniel Brown hopes that “the audience will find just as much, or more enjoyment in this show as the cast has!”

RENT highlights the importance of each individual within a community, just like the tent city that the characters of the play live in. Catawba senior Emily Olszewski, who plays Maureen Johnson, feels that “we are only here for a short period of time…What better way to leave our mark than to love openly and fearlessly?” She believes this is why this play has the opportunity to touch every audience member in a unique way.

In a nutshell, RENT is a play in which you can come to see and take away a new message each time, whether it be, “no day but today,” “live life with no regrets,” or “be yourself no matter what because there will always be someone out there who needs you in their life.” This collaboration is a way for the community and Catawba to come together both behind the curtain and on the streets.

Cast members include Amanda Becker in the Ensemble from Fort Mill, S.C.; Daniel Brown as Tom Collins understudy from Marietta, Ga.; Vanessa Burkhart as Ensemble from Lexington; Willow Catherine as Ensemble from Salisbury; Pen Chance as Roger from Augusta, Ga.; Wil Church as Mark from Trinity; Justin Davis as Benny from Salisbury; Alex Donate as Ensemble from Staunton, Va.; Holly Fully as Ensemble from Panama City Beach, Fla.; Larissa Garcia as Mimi from San Diego, Calif.; Mark Highsmith as Ensemble from Asheville; Walter “Snooky” James as Ensemble from Salisbury; Terrell Jones as Angel from Georgetown, S.C.; Christopher Lange as Ensemble from Calvert County, Md.; Karina Moran as Joanne Jefferson from Concord; Emily Olszewski as Maureen Johnson from Erie, Pa.; Maggie Saunders as Ensemble from Huntington, W.V.; Victoria Whetzel as Ensemble from Hickory; Kellie Williams as Ensemble from Charlotte; B’Jion Wright as Ensemble from Baltimore, Md. Crew members include Samantha Myers as stage manager from Miami, Fla.; Trey Irby as assistant stage manager from Concord.

••DISCLAIMER••  RENT contains strong language and adult content, and will use flashing light effects and haze.

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