Department of Theatre & Performance Studies

Created in the 1990’s, the iconic rock musical Rent has sustained its immediacy and theatrical power for over twenty-five years. The story offers an intimate encounter with a diverse group of young artists living in the lower east side of New York as we follow their daily struggles to make ends meet during the siege of HIV AIDS. Their relationships remind us of the power of a supportive community, and most of all, the hope and joy that love offers in the midst of loss and despair. Please enjoy this peek behind the scenes from our 2023 production of Rent at Kennesaw State University. 
1996 Tony Award for Best Musical and Pulitzer-Prize Winner for Drama


Download the Program. 
Watch the Trailer: 

Learn more about RENT: 


Content Warning 
Rent is rated PG-14 and contains adult language (profanity and slurs), as well as adult content and themes dealing with death, disease (HIV/AIDS), suicide, self-harm, homelessness, addiction, and sexual situations.  

If you are curious about specific content and whether or not it might be appropriate for you or a young person in your family, check out our detailed show website for more information from our dramaturgy team or check out various internet sources and criticism on the piece. 

This production will also include: depiction of simulated drug use (including smoking herbal cigarettes onstage), brief moments of flashing lights, loud rock music throughout, and actors entering and exiting through the house.

Memorial AIDS Quilt

Kennesaw State Dept of Theatre & Performance Studies displayed the Memorial AIDS Quilt in the Stillwell Theatre during the run of Rent.  
The general public was invited to visit the Memorial Quilt in our Stillwell Theatre to observe and reflect on the patchwork, its symbolism, and its history. 
A Brief History: 
After recognizing the toll of AIDS in San Francisco, human rights activist Cleve Jones established the AIDS Quilt in 1985 as a grand memorial to honor the lives of people who had died from AIDS. This bitter-sweet tribute, started by a small group of loved ones and grew to commemorate the lives of over 50,000 individuals, most of whom were men. During the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the AIDS Quilt first appeared in the National Mall in D.C. which then only had 1920 panels. After the public release of the quilt people from all over the country began to donate their own quilts and unite across the country. After a 4-month tour in 1988, the quilt tripled in size, raised almost 500K in funds to help those suffering, and then was placed on the grounds of the White House. Each following year, the AID’s Memorial Quilt received more attention and additional panels. Thirty-eight years have passed since its founding and the quilt now has approximately 50,000 panels and has traveled to several cities in the U.S. including Atlanta. The quilt has become a beautiful way for loved ones to keep alive the stories of the thousands of people lost to AIDS and has become a monumental segment of queer history in the U.S. 


Memorial AIDS Quilt

Meet The Director

Amanda Wansa Morgan

Amanda Wansa Morgan is an Atlanta-based music director, composer, director, and actor who serves as Coordinator of Musical Theatre & Associate Professor at Kennesaw State University. At KSU, she teaches classes in musical theatre performance, voice, acting, and musical theatre history and literature. In recent years at KSU, she has directed productions of The Spongebob Musical, Ragtime, Heathers, and A Man of No Importance; and music directed productions of Bring It On, The Spitfire Grill, and Thumbelina (world premiere). Amanda previously served on faculty at The University of Mississippi and also as Director of Music Education at Charleston Stage. Additionally, she has professionally music directed at The Alliance Theatre, Six Flags Over Georgia, Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Jennie T. Anderson Theatre, Actor’s Express, Synchronicity Theater, Wallace Buice Theatre Company & Buicentennial Productions, Playhouse on the Square, Post Playhouse, and Osceola Center for the Arts. She occasionally serves as a Teaching Artist for The Alliance Theatre, The Atlanta Lyric Theatre, and the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre. She has composed original music for productions of A Christmas Carol, Thumbelina, The Velveteen Rabbit, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mary Had a Little Ham, Polaroid Stories, We Made History: A TYA Musical, Twelfth Night and additional projects.  

Favorite professional Music Direction credits include The Color Purple (2018 Suzi Bass Award for Music Direction, 2018 BroadwayWorld Award in Music Direction), Jesus Christ Superstar, Songs for a New World, Hairspray, Avenue Q, Always Patsy Cline, and The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee. As composer, her original musicals have been fully produced at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Charleston Stage, Young Harris College, and Kennesaw State University. Amanda has an MFA in Acting from The University of Central Florida and undergraduate degrees in Music and Theatre from The Florida State University. She has also worked as a professional actor throughout the Southeast since 2001 in shows such as Urinetown (Pennywise), The 25th Annual…Bee (Rona Lisa Peretti), Love’s Labours Lost (Princess of France), and Tony & Tina’s Wedding (Tina).  Amanda has a Certificate of Figure Proficiency from Estill Voice Systems and she is an active member of Musical Theatre Educators Alliance (MTEA), currently serving as Secretary to the Executive Committee until 2022. She is also a member of the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), Dramatist’s Guild, and ASCAP. Amanda is the author of book chapter “Women in CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music)” in the Rowan & Littlefield book So You Want to Sing Music by Women.


AIDS - Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body's ability to fight infection and disease.

    • Isolated and Ostracized: “I was ashamed and embarrassed to tell people I’m HIV positive. Because of the stigma, your best friends would turn on you. I’ve seen my friends where their family put them out. They would have nothing to do with them. And even the medical field was ignorant. My friends who died—they would take the bed they died in and put it in the backyard and burn it. Everything the HIV person touched, they would burn or throw in the garbage.”
      — Jarvis Hall, diagnosed with HIV in 1984-85

    • Feeling Dispensable: “Ronald Reagan did not mention the word ‘AIDS’ until four or five years into his administration because of the people who were HIV positive. They were people who were either queer or people who were intravenous drug users, so these were people that were ‘dispensable.’ These were the ‘other’ people. They didn’t really care about that. I even internalized it: ‘Oh, I’m dirty. Nobody will want me,’ and this sort of thing.”
      — Reginald Brown, diagnosed with HIV in 1986

    • Ashamed: “That was the [hardest] thing for me, more than the illness: It was just the shame. And because you were human and did a human thing, that you were less than human now, and people would not see your humanity. I was a teenager being impacted by all that. [I] didn’t believe that I was ever gonna love someone or have anyone love me, so I just prepared for a life alone.”
      — Darnell White, diagnosed with HIV in 1994
  • HIV/AIDS Timeline
  • People First Language puts the person before the illness or medical condition and describes what a person has, not who a person is. People First Language helps to eliminate prejudice and it removes value judgements about the person. When we describe people by labels or medical diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals.

    Relevant Terminology

  • Demonstration tactics

    ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals, united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. The organization was founded by Larry Kramer, the playwright of “The Normal Heart” (a play about AIDS in NYC in the 80s produced by KSU In 2020)




    Article, “How Act Up Changed America,” New Yorker:

    The organization is known for their disruptive and creative strategies of performance protest. Demonstration tactics included “kiss-ins,” “die-ins,” spilling ashes of AIDS victims on White House grounds. They were defiant, courageous and committed to having their voices heard.

    See, News footage (1988):  Protestors Tie Up Traffic

    Silence=Death Slogan

    ACT UP popularized the slogan “Silence = Death” The pink triangle was used to identify gay men for persecution during WWII.  triangle was reclaimed in the 1970s by pro-gay activists. Today, the pink triangle is one of the world’s most recognizable symbols of pride, resistance, and solidarity for the LGBTQ community.


  • HIV infects CD4 cells and makes more copies of itself. Over time, HIV causes a decline in the number of these cells. So getting routine CD4 cell counts done is the main way to keep track of your immune health. In HIV-negative people, normal CD4 cell counts are 500–1,500/mm3 of blood. Doctors diagnose AIDS when a person's CD4 level drops below 200 cells per cubic milliliter of blood—even if there are no symptoms.

    AZT Drugs

    AZT (Azidothymidine) a medication to treat AIDS. Originally designed in the 60s to combat cancer. During the AIDS epidemic, the need for a cure was so strong, AZT was released while it was still in its trial stage. This led to the death of many people from the drug alone.

    TIME Magazine article regarding the AZT controversy:


  • HIV Diagnoses by Region, 2020

    The Black and African American communities have been disproportionately affected by HIV. 

    Know Your Status

Behind the Scenes

  • Jonathan Larson


    Jonathan Larson

    Jonathan David Larson was born on February 4th, 1960 in Mount Vernon, New York. He was born to Jewish parents Allan and Nanette Larson. He lived until January 25th, 1996.

    He was an American composer, lyricist and playwright most famous for writing the musicals RENT and Tick, Tick... Boom.

    In his early life, participated in drama clubs and had a passion for music. His musical influence comes from musical theatre composers like Stephen Sondheim and rock artists like Elton John and Bon Jovi.

    Jonathan Larson’s tragic death: He died from undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder which affects connective tissue throughout the body. On January 25th, 1996, Jonathan was found dead in his home, ten days before his 36th birthday and the night before previews of RENT were set to begin. His death was caused by an aortic dissection, which was caused by his undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome. He apparently suffered from chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath in the days leading up to his death, but doctors misdiagnosed this as symptoms of stress because of his work on RENT.

    Following Larson’s death, RENT ran until September 7th, 2008, making it the 11th longest running show in Broadway history.

    Larson’s family founded the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation to support composers and writers.


    Timothy Ellis 

    Timothy is a musical theatre faculty member here at KSU!  For the department, he has directed productions of Company and The Spitfire Grill; and served as choreographer for Bring It On! and The SpongeBob Musical.   As an actor, Timothy appeared on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun; on the national tours of Best Little Whorehouse.. and Show Boat; and the European tour of Evita.  He is thrilled to be working on this production of RENT with his work wife and an amazing cast! Shout out to my Assistant Choreographer: Ian J. Smith.

    Timothy Ellis
    John Michael D'haviland

    Music Director

    John-Michael d'Haviland

    John-Michael d'Haviland (Music Direction)
    Music Theatre Department Coordinator at the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School. Lyric (Music Director): Once On This Island, Next to Normal (co-MD). Additional credits: Jennie T. Anderson Theater, Synchronicity Theatre, Kennesaw State University, Marietta Theatre Company, Act3 Productions, The Keegan Theatre (DC), NextStop Theatre (VA). IG: @conductingscores

    Adapted Story

    RENT the Musical is a loose adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème (1896). Many of the musical’s modern aspects come from Jonathan Larson’s (composer, playwright) personal life, but he was also greatly influenced by Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble (1990) and New York life in the East Village in the 1980s-90s.
    Adapted Story
    La Boheme
  • Ricky Greenwell

    Costume Design

    Ricky Greenwell

    Ricky Greenwell is proud to be the assistant professor of Theatre, Costume Design and Technology at Kennesaw State University. Ricky is a costume, hair, and makeup designer for the entertainment industry. His designs have brought over 150 productions to life. He holds an MFA from Wayne State University in Costume Design and Technology. He received a BS from Eastern Michigan University in Theatre. He is a cosmetologist and holds a make-up certification from Joe Blasco School of Make-up. Ricky is active member of USITT.

    Joanne Final Design

    Scenic Design

    Ming Chen

    Ming Chen is a Professor in Scene Design at KSU. Her designs were seen at Prague Quadrennial, China’s National Stage Design Exhibition, Beijing and Tokyo, Kennedy Center American College Dance Festivals in NYC and Washington D.C., Edinburgh Festival Fringe, U.K., Shanghai International Arts Festival and Shanghai Theatre Festival, China, and theatres in India, and in Atlanta, including Theatrical Outfit, True Color’s Theatre, the Alliance Theatre, Horizon Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, 7 Stages, and Theatre in the Square.

    Rent Model View

    Ming Chen
  • Mark - Jude Hilton

    Roger - Kourage Cooper 

    Benny - Lance Avery Brown 

    Mimi - Mya Burns 

    Maureen  - Reyanna Edwards 

    Joanne - Jessica Hilliard 

    Collins - Tyler Vanduvall 

    Angel - Deshawn Williams

    Ensemble - Copeland, Amarih SoVann , Ari Palmer (Intimacy Captain), Brisa Mendez, Brooke Fleurimond, Christopher Nastasi, Ebony Golden, India Smith, Joshua Shephard, Jenna Livingston, Maisy Winn, Maurice Clermont, Naomi Green (Dance Captain), Nicole Price, Sammy Giron 

    U/S Mark/Roger  - Søren Tucker

    U/S Benny - Gabriel Ocasio

    U/S Mimi/Maureen - Alisa Milan

    U/S Joanne - Ashlee McNeil

    U/S Collins - Anthony McDonald

    U/S Angel - Maxwell Price

    Swing Ensemble - Jordan Rivers

    Swing Ensemble  - Tai Cossier 

  • Director - Amanda Wansa Morgan

    Music Director - John-Michael d'Haviland

    Choreographer - Timothy Ellis

    Scenic Designer - Ming Chen

    Costume Designer  - Ricky Greenwell

    Lighting Designer - Mack Scales

    Sound Designer & Audio Engineer - Clay Garland

    Properties Manager - Mace Gallagher

    Resident Dramaturg - Dr. Tom Fish

    Production Dramaturg - Issa Solis

    Stage Manager - Eliza Craft 

    Asst. Stage Manager - Madeline Conrad

    Asst. Stage Manager & Asst. Properties - Micah Martin

    Asst. Director - Issa Solís

    Asst. Music Director - Brayden Gailey

    Asst. Choreographer - Ian J. Smith

    Asst. Lighting Designer - Kaliee Wang

    Asst. Costume Designer - Alanna Gordon

    Asst. Costume Designer - Michelle Lee

    Asst. Scenic Designer - Dani Ramos

    Asst. Technical Director & Asst.

    Scenic Designer - Ameer Hashem

    Scenic Charge - Ash Bingham

    Asst. Properties - Chloe Taylor

    Asst. Sound Designer - Jade Roman 

  • COTA Rehearsal Photo

    COTA Rehearsal Photo2

    COTA Rehearsal Photo3

  • NYC East Village in the 1990's

    NYC East Village of 1990s

    East Village

    The East Village is a neighborhood on the East Side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. It is roughly defined as the area east of the Bowery and Third Avenue, between 14th Street on the north and Houston Street on the south.

    Alphabet City

    A bohemian enclave in the East Village with Avenues named by letters A-Z. It is a residential area inhabited by lower socioeconomic class individuals. Also nicknamed, “Alphabet Soup.”

    Joel Newsome: “Back in those days, I wouldn’t be caught dead in Alphabet city after dark.  And forget about walking through [Tompkins] Sq. park. Good Lord, no.  It was steaming with drug addicts and homeless stench.”

    2B:Art Space in East Village 1995

    2B: Art space in East Village 1995

    2B: Art space in East Village 1995 from Corey Shaff on Vimeo.

    Life Café: One of Larson’s Favorite Spots

    Jonathan Larson frequented the East Village, and he liked hanging out at Life Cafe, sipping coffee while watching, interviewing and writing Rent. He observed the neighborhood people who regularly met at Life Cafe. It is permanently closed now.

    Life Cafe


    CBGB was a club in the East Village that opened in 1973. Originally a dive bar, CBGB became an infamous venue for punk rock artists such as Blondie and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in the 90s.

    CBGB Club

    The Pyramid Club was an East Village nightclub located in Avenue A and featured rock and roll artists as well as drag performers. It opened in 1979 and quickly became a hot spot for the alternative art scene. The Pyramid helped define the East Village drag, gay, and punk scene of the 90s.

    Stars of the 1980s Pyramid Club Scene - NYC

    Pyramid Club


    8BC was a nightclub and performance space in the East Village. They Might Be Giants (the writers of “The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” theme song, picture to rt) frequently performed here in the 80s along with other musical artists. 

    8bc night club

    The Village Voice

    A weekly newsletter started in 1955 covering counter-culture topics. It is considered America’s first alternative newsweekly and the inspiration for future counter-culture news reports. The Village Voice ceased publication in 2017.

    The Voice Publication

    The Voice Paper



    The process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.

    Gentrification is important in the context of RENT because it leads to homelessness. Where do people of that area go? Where can they find security?

    Image below shows the gentrification in process in the East Village:


    Gentrification in the Lower East Side NYC

    Gentrification of St. Mark’s Place

    St. Mark's Place is considered a main cultural street for the East Village. In her 400-year history of St. Mark's Place (St. Marks Is Dead), Ada Calhoun called the street "like superglue for fragmented identities" and wrote that "the street is not for people who have chosen their lives ... [it] is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous."

    St. Mark

    BENNY: “This is Calcutta. Bohemia is dead.”

    Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) is a city in India, which is the third populous city in India. In 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dubbed Kolkata a "dying city" in light of its socio-political woes. Benny is basically saying: “Not only does your dreamworld not exist, but it's actually hell. Let it go, the dream is dead."

    From "New York City Called ‘Calcutta of the West’” (1988, Buffalo News):

    New York has become "a Calcutta of the West," gripped by poverty and homelessness that threaten the city financially as well as morally, Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore said. Bishop Moore called it a "moral obscenity" that so many people are homeless in a city of such wealth. “The homeless grew by 25 percent last year," Bishop Moore said, putting their number at 100,000. "I haven't heard the mayor getting out there and saying this is our major problem in the city and we've got to do something about it." The bishop said New York has an army of beggars and homeless people that has grown while city landlords hold as many as 60,000 apartments vacant, slowly emptying their buildings to replace them with high-rent high-rises.



    • Causes
      • “It could be two missed paychecks and their family [not being in the picture] away from being [on the street].” - Luke (Invisible People)
    • Self-medicating
      • Why do homeless people do drugs? It’s a very stressful situation with a lot of stimulants and never enough privacy or quiet. Everyone has a different way to cope. Not everyone has a home where you can lock a door. Someone might take a stimulant to stay awake and protect themselves or take a depressant to go to sleep and finally have quiet.
    • For more: Invisible People and Soft White Underbelly


    Shanty Towns/Tent Cities

    Pop-up  squatter villages. People who were evicted from their homes would set up tents underneath or along highways for temporary (or sometimes permanent) shelter.

    City of Tents

    Tompkins Square Park Riot

    Tompkins Square Park, in the East Village and Alphabet City, became a meeting place, or sometimes home to (as described by 80s journalists) “homeless people, drug pushers, squatters, and punks.”

    Considering it was a park, the community wanted to reclaim it as a safe place for kids to play, but the Tompkins Park residents had deep roots established there.

    The park was open 24 hours, but to get Tompkins Park residents out, the New York City Parks Department adopted a 1 a.m. curfew for the park, as recommended by Manhattan Community Board 3.

    On July 31, a protest rally against the curfew saw several clashes between protesters and police, it lasted for several days and received national media attention.

    Inside the Infamous NYC Riot That Got 6 Cops Indicted | Source Material

    Transportation Inequity

    NYC East Village in the 1990's

    Notice the limited accessibility to blue “M” icons (metro stations) within the borders of the East Village.