The final show of the academic year will put a spotlight on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as SIUE Theater and Dance performs the Broadway hit “Rent.”

Director Marc Schapman, an assistant voice professor, said he wanted to honor those who died in the AIDS epidemic and for the cast to have an understanding of the real-life impact of AIDS. Before each rehearsal,  actors would give a short presentation about someone who either is living with AIDS today or has passed away. 

The show, written by the late Jonathon Larson, tackles heavy topics such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse and relationship conflicts. Junior Max Ludwig, a computer science and Spanish major from Ballwin, Missouri, who plays Angel, a drag queen, said the show is both heartbreaking and joyful. 

“It’s very raw. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s not sugar-coated at all,” Ludwig said. “It’s a testament to how happy and mindful of color in life everything can be, and then in the blink of an eye, everything can change.”

Senior Savannah Millspaugh, a psychology major from Springfield, Illinois, is the stage manager for “Rent.” She said the show is not the average musical, as it contains very few blackouts and nearly no spoken dialogue. She said this brings an intensity to the show, which she loves even if it can be technically difficult to accomplish. 

“The message that it conveys, especially for the entire cast, the grief of seeing [a] partner going through something like that,” Millspaugh said. 

Ludwig said that the role of Angel helps sum up the show for him. The character is able to live fearlessly and be who she is meant to be, which really inspires Ludwig as he connects with the character of Angel on several levels. 

“It means a role that is all about love and kindness and being fearless even when you know you have a time limit. A true expression [of] awareness of gender or sexuality, being able to be fearless,” Ludwig said. 

Millspaugh said the show is diverse, not only in race but in many other ways as well. She said the cast and crew includes freshmen to seniors, as well as a faculty member in the ensemble, and many of the cast and crew identify as LGBTQ+. 

“We have diversity in so many different ways. One of our cast members called it ‘a little queer family,’” Millspaugh said. 

Taylor Cross, a program coordinator for IMPACT Academy, is part of the female ensemble for the show and the only faculty member in the show. She said she is honored to be a part of the show and that to her

the show invokes conflicting emotions.

“When I think of ‘Rent,’ I think of community, happiness [and] sadness,” Cross said. 

“Rent” will open at 7:30 p.m. on April 20 in Dunham Hall Theater and will run until April 24. For more information, visit

the SIUE Theater Department website. 

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