Jay Hirning

Karen Manley

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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.”