by Lorie Lewis Ham
The first local production of Rent in the Valley will be upon us in less than a month, as they open on July 22 at the Main Street Theater in downtown Visalia. The show is being produced by the Fourth Wall Theatre Company and has a special twist of also being a fundraiser for local HIV/AIDS programs.
Because of the added importance of this production the cast and crew have looked for as many extra ways as they can find to promote the show. In May part of the cast did a Q and A at the Reedley Street Faire and KRL handed out fliers. Recently they literally took to the streets at the Gay Pride Parade in Fresno, braving the downpour of rain. Tech director Amy Balsey put together a street team for this event and a group of 25 volunteers handed out fliers and got sign ups for an email list. The cast not only sang in the parade, but also on the main stage of the festival. “The most rewarding aspect was seeing volunteers enjoy their time while supporting a worthy cause,” said Amy.
Amy was inspired by the volunteer spirit fans have for independent musicians, and thought those ideas could easily apply to a musical that has had such a popular following. Currently they plan to schedule cast performances at both the Hanford and Visalia Farmers’ Markets. “It is certainly unconventional marketing, better suited to outside-the-box shows like Rent or the upcoming Urinetown musical in Tulare than for more traditional musicals.”
“We are looking to do a flash mob at RiverPark and would love to do ‘La Vie Boheme’ at a participating restaurant,” said the show’s other director Corey Ralston.
To help cover the expense of the show, Corey said they are selling ads in the show program. If any businesses are interested they can still contact Corey for more information. “Our hope is to raise all of the production costs and allow ourselves to be able to donate all ticket proceeds.” (email address).
The money raised at the show will go to three different local HIV/AIDS organizations. The Kings County Health Department HIV division, The Tulare County Health HIV Dept. and WECARE in Fresno. “Each organization is earmarking the funds to go towards peer counseling and education,” continued Corey. “No funds go to a general fund.”
Corey stated that from the very beginning this event was planned as a fundraiser. “We want to open people’s minds and hearts and then make them feel good about helping out people in their own area that are affected by this disease.”
“This is a phenomenal opportunity to bring public attention to HIV/AIDS,” said Pat Sabatier, HIV Program Director and Case Manager for Tulare County HHSA Department of Health – HIV/AIDS Services. “With the work being done by The Fourth Wall Theatre Company through this production of Rent, it truly opens public discussion of the disease and allows us to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS and individuals feeling comfortable with being tested, practicing safe sex, and knowing their status.”
Pat stated that although the epidemic is not what it was in 1996 when the musical Rent premiered, HIV/AIDS is an extremely serious disease with no cure. Treatment options are available, but many people are not tested and may not even know they are infected. The CDC estimates there are over 56,000 new cases across the nation every year , with over one million individuals living with HIV infection. Of those one million infected, 21% remain undiagnosed. “It is imperative that we continue the work to educate the public on the level of importance of knowing their HIV/AIDS status,” continued Pat.
The Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency Department of Health HIV Program offers, but is not limited too:
– Free HIV testing and free condoms
– HIV/AIDS/STD community education and outreach
– HIV Case Management – Includes confidential services such as linking clients to insurance programs and financial assistance, connection to local physicians, and partner service, wherein clients are assisted in identifying sexual partners and notifying them of their status
– Support Group – The HIV Support Group meets twice a month, and offers individuals comfort and assistance on psychosocial levels.
“The Fourth Wall Theatre Company is generously donating a portion of the proceeds of this production of Rent to Friends of Tulare County, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promotion of the safety, health and well being of all residents of Tulare County,” said Pat. Friends of Tulare County will be accepting this donation on behalf of the Tulare County HIV/AIDS Program. The funds will support the HIV Program’s social support group, creating training opportunities, member activities and making outreach possible.
The cast and crew have gone above and beyond in putting this show together, not only because they are excited about being in a local production of Rent, but also because of the significance of the fundraising side of this event. Many cast members are commuting from other towns in the Valley at the end of a long day to the Olive Plant warehouse in Visalia where they are rehearsing Monday through Thursday. The rehearsal space was donated by the owner and the sets are being built there as well.
“So far everyone does it with smiles, even though gas prices are high,” said Corey. “The cast has a great sense of humor. Sometimes when we work especially hard we find ways to relieve the stress by making jokes. There is a lyric that Mark sings ‘You can take the girl out of hicksville but you can’t take the hicksville out of the girl’. Peter Allwine (who plays Mark) has been changing the hicksville to various central valley towns just to crack us up–like Kerman, Armona, Pixley, Hanford.”
“It can be a bit of a trek making the drive daily,” said Peter. “But Danielle (who plays Maureen) and I carpool with Camille (who plays Joanne) and we take turns driving every other day, so it’s not too bad.”
Peter was one of the cast members to perform at Pride. “It was rough that Saturday, as it was raining pretty heavily. But the performance went really well, it got a really good response, and I think it gave us some good publicity.”
“I think we are all getting more excited as opening draws nearer…there is a certain amount of excitement, fear, nervousness, and anticipation in the air,” continued Peter. The show will be accompanied by a live band and the cast got to sing a few songs with them for the first time recently. “The band is hot – damn good band they’ve got – and I think it really raised the bar, made everyone involved even more excited for people to come see what we’ve got!”
“They are sounding amazing,” shared Corey. “All of the cast and crew is beyond excited to work with them. There is no way to put on a rock opera with out a rocking band.” About the cast, Corey had this to say, “I am constantly surprised at the amount of talent we have in this cast. The power behind these voices is really going to blow people away.”
Fourth Wall hopes to arrange it where people can make an added donation to the HIV/AIDs programs at the show. Performances are July 22-31, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at rentvisalia.com or Brown Paper Tickets. They hope for a sell out–the more money they make, the more they have to give!
To learn even more about how this show came together, check out KRL’s earlier article-Rent Hits The Valley This Summer.
1 Hall HI, Ruiguang S, Rhodes P, et al. Estimation of HIV incidence in the United States. JAMA. 2009;300:520-529.
2 CDC. HIV Prevalence Estimates—United States, 2006. MMWR 2009;57(39):1073-76.