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Fossil is Rent: Jay Hirning and Jack Kraus

Rent's set remains mostly hidden to the public until the show's opening night.

Rent's set remains mostly hidden to the public until the show's opening night.

Johnny Howlett

Rent's set remains mostly hidden to the public until the show's opening night.

Johnny Howlett

Johnny Howlett

Rent's set remains mostly hidden to the public until the show's opening night.

Fossil is Rent: Jay Hirning and Jack Kraus

November 13, 2018

On November 15, 16, and 17, Fossil Ridge High School will stage the musical Rent. Tickets are selling out quickly, and can be purchased here. Fossil students have worked for months behind the scenes and on stage to bring the production to life. Two students, Jay Hirning, an actor, and Jack Kraus, a projections crew member, are featured to try to capture both aspects of theater. Read on to hear their stories and what theater means to them.

Jay Hirning

A student face to look for during Fossil Ridge High School’s musical production of Rent is sophomore Jay Hirning. He will be playing the part of Angel Dumott Schunard, a drag queen and struggling artist in New York’s East Village. Similarly to the other characters of the story, Angel has AIDS and is living on the street. Despite the struggles endured by the character, Hirning could not be more excited.

“I love my character, this role was made for me,” gushed Hirning. He had never heard of Rent prior to its reveal as Fossil’s fall musical, but once he watched the movie and got some background, Hirning felt he was perfect for the character. “I could see myself doing it, so I was like ‘Hey, I’ll give it a shot.,’” Hirning explained, “I got cast as Angel, I didn’t think it would happen but it did, so ever since then I’ve been completely on it. I love being in the costume and singing. It’s so much fun.”

Hirning’s greatest passion is theater and being on stage. “I love how much energy everyone puts into it,” he said. “You can pretend to be a different person, you don’t have to be yourself. You can dress up and you just bond with everybody. You sing songs with them and dance with them and that’s just a great way to communicate.”

I can just be myself because everyone in theater is loud and outgoing. They just understand me more because they’re exactly like me.”

— Jay Hirning

“I’m passionate because it just helps me open up my feelings on stage. Outside of theater I don’t really open up to people but in theater I can express myself in a way that won’t feel like I have to hold back. I can just be myself because everyone in theater is loud and outgoing. They just understand me more because they’re exactly like me,” Hirning stated.

Shortly before his time at Fossil, Hirning began to take an interest in theater. He prides himself on his eighth grade role as Donkey in Shrek: The Musical, explaining, “Everyone else was white, I was the only black kid, so I was like, ‘Okay, I should probably go for Donkey because it’s meant for a black person.’ It was really fun.” Hirning joked, “I kind of regret not auditioning for Shrek, though. I would’ve made a great Shrek.”

Outside of theater, Hirning considers himself to be relatively introverted, describing, “I’m a stay-at-home, inside type of guy. I’ll hang out with people who I want to hang out with.  It depends on my mood but I’m just very unsocial. I isolate myself outside of school and take that time for myself.” Despite his passion for the Dramatic Arts, he sometimes struggles to get out of his comfort zone off-stage, explaining, “With a bunch of new people who I’ve never met before, I will be super quiet and very nervous. But, if I get to know that person or I’m with my friends, I’ll be super wide and open.”

Those who know Hirning can attest to his positive attitude and love for his friends. “I don’t want to make other people sad or negative, I don’t want to bring that negative vibe into the room. Instead of showing what I’m really feeling, I tend to just be happy all the time so I don’t bring other people down or make people worry about me,” Hirning admitted. “Because I tend to close off my feelings I’m more happy or I seen more happy to a lot of people and just put on a smile and just walk around and make friends with everyone. My friends and my family are a part of what makes me me.”

Johnny Howlett
This year’s set is the tallest ever attempted by Fossil’s set crew, and its creation involved hundreds of man-hours.

In addition, he spoke to the fact that, “My brother is the only thing that’s been a real struggle in my life. He isn’t really nice to me or my family so it’s hard to live around that everyday. A lot have things have happened that just spiraled out of control so we’re just hanging in there, and trying to stay positive about it. I’ll always love him. I don’t like him, but I love him.”

While Hirning’s parents are accepting of his gay identity, his brother is not, and calls him slurs and makes jokes. “Over the years, I’ve just learned to live with it, but back when I felt things for it, It hurt a lot. Me and my brother used to be really close,” Hirning reflected. “We’d bond over video games and stuff. As we grew up, he became more aggressive and closed me off from his life. I just felt sad and like I needed someone to look up to.”

Outside of his biological family, Hirning has many friends inside and outside of theater. “Family to me is those people who you can really cope with and you hang out with a lot. That family where you just feel safe and where you won’t be judged or pressured to do anything bad. They’ll accept you for you and love you for who you are no matter what, good and bad,” he remarked.

In terms of Hirning’s sexual identity, he doesn’t let others’ opinions get to him. “I feel like some people could be very negative about it because of religious stuff, or they just don’t like it, but I have a lot of people who really like me for who I am so I feel very accepted. I don’t care if they don’t like me, they should just keep it to themselves. Treat people the way you want to be treated,” Hirning encouraged.

After high school, Hirning dreams of a life on stage. “I want to be on Broadway. I want that so much. It wasn’t a dream of mine until probably eighth grade, after the Shrek musical. I’ve improved myself a lot through classes and voice lessons. I’m trying to think of how I can get there,” Hirning said. “I want to go to high places like Julliard, but that will be extremely hard to do. But, if I put in enough work, I’m pretty sure I can do it.”


Slander or profanity, even if abbreviated, will not be approved.

  1. Serena Bettis on November 15th, 2018 11:13 pm

    I LOVE THE USE OF THE SIDE BY SIDE!!! What would have been great is if you included a picture of each of the people you wrote about, so we would know who to look for!

  2. Lisa McMahon on November 17th, 2018 10:04 am

    I enjoyed your performance so much last night Jay – you killed it as did the rest of the cast. I was so impressed by how talented you and your classmates are and how mature you all handled the subject matter. I grew up near NYC in the 80’s and this play hits some notes for me and my experiences and fears as a teen during that time. AIDS and the gay community were feared during that time and it wasn’t all that long ago. I think the underlying messages of love and what is man’s worth are as important messages today as they were then. Well done Fossil Ridge Theater!

  3. Anonymous on November 19th, 2018 4:47 pm

    OMIGOSH Jay! You are so amazing – keep dreaming, one day you’ll end up on Broadway. Keep shining bright!

Jack Kraus

Fossil Ridge High School students who saw the theater department’s performance of Big Fish last year will remember the flood that swept across the stage, the forest that introduced Edward Bloom to magic when he was a teenager, and, of course, the iconic romantic moment when thousands of daffodils bloomed on stage. What they’re less likely to remember, though, is the students who were sitting in the booth above them, working silently to make sure every visual projection went off without a hitch.

Senior Jack Kraus has been a cast member of every Fossil production since he arrived at the school as a freshman. He acted in West Side Story and has served on sound and set crews. However, for several shows, he’s been on the projections crew, who are responsible for crafting the visuals that give context to the show. Sometimes, their purpose is to make the audience gasp with wonder. Other times, they’re hardly noticed. However, as Kraus explained, the crew knows that they’ve succeeded when, “we make the show look good, and we trick you into making you think it was easy.”

The crew runs their projections through a program called Isadora to bring them to life on stage. During a performance, Kraus described, “It’s dead silent [in the booth.] The stage manager is up there calling cues, saying, ‘Cue blank.’ But if it’s a more relaxed show, and we’ve kinda gotten into the groove of things, we’re more relaxed, and we dance around, because we’re allowed to have fun.”

Johnny Howlett
Kraus has worked on the set crew in the past, and has leant a hand for this production as well, explaining that he, “basically just lifts heavy stuff.”

Kraus believes that this year’s performance, Rent, is important because it touches on so many difficult topics. He cited love and loss, as well as breaking from conformity, adding that, “In this day and age, those are being fought against by more traditionalist people. I think it’s important to have coverage that shows that people aren’t that different, if you just listen to them.” Additionally, the show is coming together well, which adds to Kraus’ confidence. He expressed that, “The actors, especially the main bunch, are so incredibly talented, and it’s amazing to see them interact with the set. We spent so long actually putting it together, and being able to see the work that we’ve done coming to fruition is really cool.”

Speaking to the Fossil community’s attitude toward theater productions, Kraus acknowledged that he doesn’t think people always realize how much work goes into every little detail. Aspects like sound, lights, set, and projections go unnoticed because, “You see it in its finished state. And you’re like, okay, that couldn’t have been too hard. But you don’t realize that they had to create all the sound effects, one by one, and the program shuts down and doesn’t save itself sometimes. For lighting, they have to hang all the lights while hanging off of the catwalk. With set, each of those bricks is hand-painted. And it came, not as bricks, but as this sheet of plastic.” Ultimately, “there’s a lot more to the process that people just don’t see.”

When asked if he had a favorite moment from theater during his time at Fossil, Kraus’ eyes lit up, even as he shook his head ruefully. He told a story from Big Fish, in which, while he was running projections, the computer crashed. “It was so projections-heavy, that was like the most stressful moment. Running that show was the most stressful moment of my life. But it was also so fulfilling, because you get to see all the work you’ve done and all the work your friends have done for the past couple of months come to life, and the audience react. There are just special moments,” he elaborated.

Running that show was the most stressful moment of my life. But it was also so fulfilling, because you get to see all the work you’ve done and all the work your friends have done for the past couple of months come to life, and the audience react.”

— Jack Kraus

Those special moments, in fact, are what make one’s high school experience so valuable, and so memorable. The best advice Kraus could give to any Fossil student is to “Find something that you’re interested in, and just do it. Full send. Get involved in everything that you can.” He acknowledged that, because of his own involvement, he’s made friends and talked to so many people who he never would have gotten to know otherwise. “[School] is just a place for you to become yourself,” he added, “and I think that’s really important.”

As a senior, Kraus is continuously slammed with work. He has a job at Starbucks, is taking five Advanced Placement classes and a college class, and is applying to “too many” colleges. He plays Ultimate Frisbee, is in National Honor Society, and both works on and acts in TV productions. He’s also President of Technical Theater at Fossil, which entails trying to recruit as many new people to the program as possible. However, he doesn’t regret the numerous activities, adding that, “I make myself busy, because that’s how I have fun. Getting involved.”

After high school, Kraus is hoping to major in Psychology – a choice that, while not directly related to theater, found its roots there. The arts have made an extraordinary impact on his life, beginning with a first grade play at a local theater company. Kraus believes that the arts shape how you interact with other people, and that they “can bring light to so many new experiences.” He concluded, simply, with “I love it.”

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