Arts & Entertainment
2 min

What a change Rent makes

Young actor stars in musical that helped him come out of the closet

"The show started the process of coming out for me," says Jacob MacInniss.
For Jacob MacInniss, performing in Rent means more than flaunting his vocal chops. The young actor’s role in the Sheridan College production brings him full circle on a voyage of self-discovery. A shy and often bullied youth at his Whitby Catholic high school, his drama teacher (perhaps cognizant of his homo leanings) pushed him to buy the seminal Broadway musical’s soundtrack at his local HMV.
 
“I was rapt for two and a half hours,” MacInniss says. “I’d never heard anything before that talked about being gay and not being afraid to have a voice. By the end, I was jumping up and down on my bed. It took everything I’d felt my whole life and put it into song.”
 
Not long after, he took a school trip to New York, intent on catching the life-changing soundtrack’s live incarnation.
 
“It was the first time I’d seen a gay romance depicted on stage,” he says. “I was still totally in the closet with the door shut and locked. Seeing gay characters living their lives like it was this natural thing got the wheels turning for me. I knew I was gay, but keeping it a secret was a priority. The show started the process of coming out for me.”
 
Despite his family’s Catholic faith (his father is their church deacon) they were surprisingly unfazed when he broke the news. The greater leap was to see him study acting; not a career for those seeking upward financial mobility, though their fears may be assuaged since he’s already landed an agent and started auditioning.
 
MacInniss plays Tom Collins, one of several characters living with AIDS. Rent was also his first introduction to the realities and history of the disease.
 
“I don’t personally know anyone who’s been affected by it, so I had to do a lot of research for my character,” he says. “For someone my age, it’s easy to forget how different things were . . . If there’s a message to take away it’s that the battle isn’t over and we need to keep fighting.”
 
Another fight MacInniss is passionate about is the need for gay-straight alliances (something virtually unheard of during his own high school years).
 
“We have to get past the point where people’s religious beliefs trump the right to a safe educational environment,” he says. “I went through silent torture for years, and I had nowhere to turn because I was afraid.”

  

The Deets:
Theatre Sheridan presents Rent
Wed, May 16-Sun, May 27
Panasonic Theatre
651 Yonge St
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