Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Cause everything is RENT!"

What an interesting experience working on Rent has been. As assistant stage manager, I have been with the production from the beginning, and have seen the show through the entire rehearsal, tech and production process. From the start I knew this would be a great experience, given the director was a personal friend of playwright Jonathan Larson. It was interesting to hear Scott, the director, talk about his days living in New York with Jon and actually being there during the time Jon was writing Rent. He had many funny and charming stories to share with the cast and crew about his days in New York, struggling as an actor, and how so much of Jon’s life was incorporated into his work.

As many people know, the rights for Rent are extremely well guarded by the Larson estate and the publisher. There are a number of rules that come along with this show that most productions don’t have to deal with. Yet Scott had ideas for this production – ideas that most other productions would get in trouble for attempting. He wanted to rearrange the order of the second act, because he felt the voice mails interrupted the dramatic action and made Angel’s death seem less significant.

But the Department of Theatre warned Scott about attempting to do such a thing, especially with their issues regarding the production of Tommy last year. Scott said not to worry, because he would get it cleared with Jon’s parents and would show the publisher that he had the right to do it. Well I’m not quite sure exactly what happened, but he never ended up getting it cleared with the Larson family. I think he felt bad for pestering them about it, and just decided to make do with what he had. He did end up cutting almost all of the song “Contact,” but don’t tell anyone!

This production was also special to me because it was a chance to work with a few actors with whom I’ve previously shared the stage. I performed in Seussical the Musical and The Wiz with actors Kellyn Uhl and Michelle Meredith in a community theatre back in high school. So it was fun to be able to work with them again in a college setting. Plus, both of them – as well as the entire cast – are extremely talented, which made the experience just so much more enjoyable.

Another element of this production that I appreciated was the director’s statement that “this is not the Rent from Broadway. This is not Rent the movie.” He told the cast not to listen to the soundtrack or watch the movie (or filmed version of the final Broadway performance.) He wanted to start from scratch, and take a fresh look at the material, instead of giving audiences the “standard” Rent that most would expect. No, Mark would not be wearing his famous striped scarf. No, Angel would not be wearing the famous Santa jacket. This was not to be a recreation of the Broadway production.

He wanted it to be a period piece, so the designers examined the script and pinpointed a year – 1994/1995. A central theme to the design concept was the idea that even when you’re not in focus, your life continues. Scott wanted a beehive-like community. For costumes, the designer wanted authentic clothing; she wanted it to look how the characters would have found and dressed themselves using what was in their closets.

Yet another interesting element of this production was the incorporation of video and projections. It was a great concept, and was wonderfully executed by the designer and film team. It was neat to be able to experience the filming at the Com Arts studio in front of a green screen, and see how it transferred so well onstage. All in all, Rent has been a truly wonderful experience from start to end, and I feel quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such talented actors and designers.


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