Cast of “Rent” reaccount their housing stories

Actors of LC’s upcoming main stage production share their highs, lows, advice regarding on-campus living

Photo of the cast of Rent
Courtesy of Mia Webster

The hit rock musical “Rent” premieres at Lewis & Clark on Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 5. However, how does the cast feel about their rent?

 “Rent,” by Jonathan Larson, opened on Broadway in 1996. It is a love letter to the starving artists of New York City as well as a beautifully tragic portrayal of the AIDS crisis and its crushing impact on the LGBTQ+ community. But one has to wonder: Over two decades and a different pandemic later, does the show’s message still resonate? A central topic from which the show gets its name is, of course, rent. We asked three cast members about their housing experiences to see what paying rent has been like in recent years.

Ethan Sanders ’25 wants you to stop hating on Copeland Residence Hall. Sanders has lived in Copeland for two years. Last year, he lived on an all-men’s floor, but it did not fulfill the stereotype. 

“Everyone has this notion that because it’s all guys it’s gonna be super rowdy,” Sanders said. “It was nothing like that. It was the most chill floor I could have asked for.”

This year, Sanders is back in Copeland. He is having what some would say is a more classic Copeland experience. Broken showers and a “serial pisser-on-the-floor” have characterized his return, along with what Sanders calls a general “lack of human decency.”

“Within the first couple days, someone stole my frozen mini corn dogs out of the communal fridge, which was frustrating,” Sanders said.

In spite of the challenges, Sanders has been able to find a silver lining. 

“You kind of learn to love the chaos,” Sanders said. “… On one hand it sucks to be in Copeland because it’s Copeland, but on the other hand it’s something I’m familiar with and it’s nice to come back to that.”

Most importantly, Sanders hopes we can all learn a little Copeland-positivity. 

Bryn Bollimpalli ’25  is  no stranger to dorm life. For three years of high school, they attended a boarding school in remote New Hampshire and said that it is no exaggeration to “tell people I went to school in the woods.” 

Sanders may have lucked out on the all-men’s floor, but Bollimpalli had a more typical experience. 

“It’s a bunch of sophomore/junior boys with their friends … no one was expecting it to go well,” Bollimpalli said.

Bollimpalli recalls a memorable roommate they had sophomore year. He left about a month before the end of the school year, and when Bollimpalli and their other roommates were moving out at the end of the year, they found the room was littered with his belongings, including a pair of underwear under someone else’s bed. 

Along with some typical shenanigans, including the time “someone tried to grill fish in the middle of the night in the hallway,” Bollimpalli has fond memories of their high school residence. 

“Lots of pillow fights in the middle of the night, especially senior year, I remember,” Bollimpalli said.

Grace Wenzel ’23 has lived on campus all four years because he has liked living on campus too much to consider living elsewhere.

“More than anything, I enjoy the convenience of being right here,” Wenzel said.

Even the best of housing is never perfect. Wenzel found similarities between his residential life and that of his “Rent” character, recalling the winter of 2020 when there was a power outage in the dorms and students had to gather in Templeton to beat the cold, just as the characters in “Rent” are attempting to do in the beginning of the play.

He continued to find similarities, noting that despite appearing quite different on the surface, the “eccentric student body of LC and the eclectic artists and squatters of Alphabet City” have more in common than it seems.

“I think that the characters in rent and our own students would have a common struggle against institutional silence and bureaucracy and the sort of ‘oh we hear you we see you’; that disingenuous faux allyship,” Wenzel said. “I suppose if the ‘Rent’ characters were here, they would probably ask us ‘You guys are still dealing with this shit?’”

Wenzel also noted that he was disappointed with the housing situation. With much of the new Class of 2026 living in crowded overflow spaces, he feels that the message LC is communicating is “‘We admitted you because you’re cutting us a check,’ and this signaling to the new students that they are a source of capital.”

He shared his hopes that the freshman class will show resilience in the face of these challenges.

 “I would really urge the freshman class to not be disillusioned because there’s going to be tough stuff that happens and the administration is going to let you down,” Wenzel said. “You can wallow in despair about that or you can say ‘This sucks but I’m going to make the best of it anyway.’”

Wenzel’s final piece of sage advice for the incoming class: “Absolutely invest in ear plugs.”

Much like the characters they portray, these LC students have still found joy and comfort in their residential lives in spite of uncertainty, chaos and occasional broken showers or burnt fish.

“Rent” opens on Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 5. Tickets are $5 for LC students, $10 for faculty, staff, alumni, senior citizens and non-LC students, and $15 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.

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