Every day, before rehearsals start, the Hoboken High School cast of Rent stands around a piano, hands locked.
After a warm up song, the students all share one bad thing ("I had an argument with someone," or "my grade was lower than expected") and one good thing (such as "I had a chicken parm for lunch and it was amazing" and understanding chemistry class") from that day.
"The circle is meant to unify the cast for the day," said Theater Director Danielle Miller. " Within minutes after the circle, the students hop on stage and transform into their characters.
"I don't look at this like a high school show," said Miller, adding that she wants this performance to be something the community will remember.
Rent, the 1994 rock opera that centers on the aids epidemic in New York City, was written by Jonathan Larson and based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme.
Music Director Kristen Dziuba the self described "bad cop" to Miller's "good cop" said the show highlights the students' talents.
The students at HHS, Dziuba said, "are vastly more mature" than a lot their peers at other schools. "They really grasp what this show is about."
Jordan Yurnet, 16, who plays the role of Tom Collins, said he has been listening to the musical since he was very young.
"The first time I heard the song 'Will I' I was five or six," Yurnet said. "And now I'm here, now I sing the song."
Yurnet, a junior, has one of the lead roles.
On Tuesday afternoon, the cast was just becoming acquainted with the set, which had arrived much later after Sandy delayed the process.
"We had no set rehearsal time, so this all turned into crunch time," said senior Ariel Cruz, who plays the role of Mimi Marquez. Rent will be Cruz's last and tenth show, before she graduates in May and plans to pursue a career in musical theater. Cruz has been performing in Hoboken's theater program since Kindergarten.
"The drama department is like a cult," Cruz said, laughing, "you can't leave."
For senior Chris Valez, rent is also his last show. Valez, 17, has been in more then ten productions.
"I have one of the funnier characters," said Valez who plays the role of Mark Cohen. And while he listened to the music and had seen the movie in eighth grade, Valez said he initially had less of a bond with the musical than some of his fellow cast members.
“At first I didn’t like it,” said Jaemison Yoon-Hendricks, 16, who plays the role of Roger Davis.
“I thought it was a bunch of guys who go through all this drama,” said Yoon-Hendricks. “It’s ten times deeper than I initially thought.”
“It talks about life,” Yoon-Hendricks added. “I learned that friends are everything.”
This lesson reverberates through the auditorium as the cast sings together, rehearses and patiently listen to Miller’s and Dziuba’s directions.
Miller first saw Rent when she was a sophomore in high school and has seen it almost every year since then. Every year for her birthday, Miller said, she has her very own “Rent holiday,” in which she sees the performance on stage somewhere.
“I never thought I’d be able to be part of it,” she said. “I can’t keep it dry, I get teary eyed.”