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For Stage Notes performers, the ‘Rent’ is due

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WATERTOWN — The nonprofit youth theater group Stage Notes, which has a foundation of giving back to the community and has had its “Performance With a Purpose” motto hampered the past two years due to the pandemic, is ready to take the stage again.

Stage Notes, the group for exceptional theater students founded by Ticia K. Aumell in 2009, will present a challenging musical that hasn’t been seen on local stages and one that is an unusual selection for such a young cast.

“I’ve never considered doing it either,” said Mrs. Aumell, artistic director. “There have been other years when we looked at it for a minute and then said, ‘Nah — I don’t think so.’ But every year, we say the show picks us, and it happened again this year. We looked at it again and said, ‘This is it. It’s the year to tell the story and these are the kids to tell the story.’ It just feels right.”

Stage Notes will present “Rent: School Edition,” at 7 tonight and at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Dulles State Office Building.

“Rent,” which ran on Broadway for 5,123 performances from 1996 to 2008, is a rock opera about young artists struggling to survive in the shadow of HIV/AIDS in the East Village of New York City from 1989-90. It won a Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its music, lyrics and book is by Jonathan Larson, who died in 1996 at the age of 35 due to an aortic aneurysm.

The license holder for “Rent,” Musical Theater International, says its “Rent” adaptation has been carefully done, working with the Larson estate to retain its dramatic intent with minimal changes to language and the removal of one song, “Contact.”

“This isn’t an easy show,” said Mrs. Aumell. “It’s vocally hard, the material is hard. We could have picked a score we knew we could sing and a story we know we could tell. Instead, we said to the students, ‘We believe in you. Let’s do this.’ They rose to the occasion.”

Last summer, the theater group staged “The Theory of Relativity” as its first virtual production, recorded at Case Middle School. Michael Schanely, Watertown City School District audio/video technician, did the recording and editing for the production. No Stage Notes musical was produced in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The theme of “Rent” also played a role in Mrs. Aumell selecting it for this summer’s production.

“It was all of the themes — struggling to create art, fighting a disease, surviving with your circle of friends, learning how to measure you life in love — all of those themes just resonated so strongly with us, that we thought now’s the time to tell the story,” she said.

The fact that the pandemic also sidelined high school musicals brought on a challenge for Mrs. Aumell and her co-directors. Among the 21 students in Stage Notes are six seniors — four who were freshmen in 2019.

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