Dim lights focus on a young man standing center stage. Choked-back tears fill the audience as he begins to sing out softly, filling the theater with a chilling sound. Fellow actors with heart-broken dispositions surround him. At once, they join in unison to perform an iconic scene, the “I Will Cover You” reprise, from the acclaimed rock musical, Rent, written by Jonathan Larson.
In the scene, one of the main characters, Angel, has died and a funeral is being held in her honor. Collins, Angel’s girlfriend, takes the moment to express his undying love and commitment to her. It is a pivotal event in the show, one that demonstrates the overwhelming physical and emotional loss that occurred during the AIDS epidemic. For Carlo Wood, who plays Collins in George Washington University’s production, the show’s message of loss strikes an even deeper chord.
“I remember four years ago, I never would have thought that I would have been in college in a place like this,” said Wood.
Wood, a freshman at George Washington University, experienced very different teenage years than those of his peers. After his mother was arrested in a high-speed car chase when he was 2 years old, he was put up for adoption. He spent the next 14 years at the mercy of a cruel new mother.
“She was very emotionally and somewhat physically abusive,” Wood said. “She was very money hungry. I basically provided for myself. She took my $400 government-issued check and [used it to pay] for a new truck.”
While other 16-year-olds were getting their drivers licenses and celebrating their Sweet 16’s, Wood moved out of his adopted home and into an all-boys group home while waiting to be placed with a new foster family. It was the first of four group homes he lived in over four months. The atmosphere was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
“They had cameras in the bedrooms,” Wood said. “The first night there I just sat in my room on the floor and cried because it was very terrifying. I was completely stripped away of everything I had.”
Despite the harsh living conditions, Wood continued to attend high school, where he excelled in honors classes and spent his extra-curricular time dabbling in the arts. His love for theater even inspired one of his future business ventures.
“At some point down the road, I want to have a franchise of all-male group homes that are arts-based. With the arts you can express yourself, unlike sports.” said Wood.
While many of his peers at high school feared rejection from esteemed universities, Wood’s ambition led him to apply to prestigious colleges far from his home in Newnan, Georgia.
“They wanted to stay close to Mommy and Daddy,” Wood said. “Opportunity is out there waiting for us. Mommy and Daddy won’t be there forever.”
Wood currently studies Business Administration in GWU’s School of Business with a concentration in Event Planning and Finance. He spent the first months of the semester performing with Forbidden Planet Productions, one of the student performance groups on campus, and was recently appointed as a legislative assistant in the Student Association. While he credits his strong character for getting him through tough situations, the transition from Georgia to Washington, D.C. has still been tricky.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment. The first meal I had here was a 12 dollar salad,” Wood said. “Most people have their parents back home. I have foster parents. I’ve only lived with them for two or three years. I’m still not that comfortable. I can’t just call them and say ‘Mom! Dad! I need money.’ I just can’t do that.”
Still, Wood is grateful for this new chapter in his life, so much so that afternoons spent reflecting in the university’s Kogan Plaza sometimes bring him to tears.
“Some people just don’t appreciate what they have. I know I don’t have much, but I know that I have more than someone else, “ Wood said. “People should take a stroll down F Street. They’ll be amazed at what they see. We’re in D.C. We’re in college. We’re getting a really good education. I’m just really thankful.”