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"RENT" due in Batavia

By Gretel Kauffman

This weekend, the Western New York Arts Society will return with a bang from a one-year hiatus with the enormously popular and acclaimed rock opera, "RENT." It's the society's first show since  "The Producers" in 2009, and one that most certainly will prove worth the wait.

"'The Producers' was just a gigantic show," said Jason Juliano, the head of the group and the producer of "RENT." It had a huge budget and a two-week run in both Batavia and Buffalo.

"We definitely needed a break after that was all done. This has a much lower budget, but that doesn't mean it's of a lower quality."

Director Ashley Bateman says the decision to do "RENT" was an easy one.

"It's always been my favorite show," she says. "And it's never done around here, so it's offering something new to the community."

The WNYAS has something of a history of producing "new" shows. "RENT" will join the ranks of the other successful, nontraditional productions that the company has performed, which include "Urinetown," "The Producers," and "Songs for a New World."

If the WNYAS name does not sound familiar, that's because the group has recently undergone a change in moniker. It was previously known as the Batavia Musical Society, but because of increasing participation from actors in the Buffalo and Rochester areas and performances in venues not in Batavia, the group felt the renaming would give them a greater opportunity to expand.

"RENT" is a modern-day version of the opera "La Boheme" set in New York City. It follows the lives of the young starving artists who live there as they struggle with HIV/AIDS. The show has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Musical, and enjoyed a 12-year run on Broadway.  

Mark, one of the aforementioned starving artists and the show's narrator, is portrayed by Jake Bortle of Le Roy.

"He's really, really, poor," Bortle says of his character. "He's extremely pathetic."

But regardless of the "pathetic"ness of Mark, Bortle says it is a role he has always wanted to play. Bortle, 17, is a senior at Le Roy High School and an active participant in the Genesee County theater community. He plans on attending Park Point University after graduation to study musical theater and hopes to someday work as a professional actor.  

Despite the fact that Bateman describes the show as "definitely PG-13," Bortle is not the only high school student involved. The cast of 16 is comprised mainly of teenagers and college students, with only a smattering of adults.

Although some of the themes may be inappropriate for children, Juliano says the show contains an "amazing message of tolerance and acceptance. Do not take anything for granted, and live every day as if it's your last because you never know when your last day will come. Live life to the fullest."

Performances of "RENT" are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, all at the Ross Street Performing Arts Center in the Batavia Middle School, located at 96 Ross St.

Reserved-seating tickets are $15 and can be puchased online at or by calling 585-201-3750. Tickets are also available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 1 pm. Friday at the Juliano Allstate Insurance Co. (located at 590 E. Main St., across from Aldi). At-the-door tickets will be available in the lobby at 6:30 p.m., and the house will open at 7. The theater is handicap accessible.

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