Rent Interview

Stars of the revival of RENT, now Off Broadway at New World Stages, had a chat with Plogger Liz about what it’s like to perform in a play that they loved growing up. Check out what Adam Chanler-Berat (Mark), Annaleigh Ashford (Maureen) and MJ Rodriguez (Angel) have to say. LIZ: Were you familiar with RENT before this production? ANNALEIGH: I was a huge fan of the soundtrack. I had seen the show on the road and on Broadway, so it was kind of an interesting challenge to reevaluate the piece, but thankfully we had the guidance of Michael Greif [the original director] and the guidance of the text to re-navigate the story.ADAM: It was kind of iconic for me growing up. It inspired me and injected me with hope that my voice could be spoken for in musical theatre, in the art that I have chosen to pursue, so it was really important for me. LIZ: What is it like to bring such iconic characters to life again? MJ: It’s amazing to get onstage and fill a role that’s been played for so many years and to bring something new since it is a new production. ANNALEIGH: Any time that you’re working on an iconic role, there’s an important aspect of paying homage to how it was originally created because it’s a piece of history. At the same time, you want to find your own voice, and you want to feel free to explore within the confines of the piece and the text. Even though the story is the same, it’s been interesting revisiting and re-exploring. It’s daunting, but totally exciting and familiar. Doing this show feels like going home. ADAM: RENT was so important for all of us in developing our musical theatre voices as young performers. It’s brings back a lot of memories for all of us. LIZ: What is the message of RENT? Is it still relevant 15 years later? ANNALEIGH: This show is about how the human spirit connects and takes care of one another. MJ: When you have friendship, when you have connections, you overcome a lot. It’s about going through struggle and having someone there to help you overcome. ADAM: In terms of the disease [AIDS], how we think about the gay community and what’s happened to the East Village, we’ve come a long way but all of those things make it even more important that we remember where we came from. Especially for this generation. When you grow up in an environment that’s really accepting and open, you tend to lose track of what it took to get there. I’d say most of our audience is below twenty, and didn’t necessarily go through the AIDS epidemic in the ‘90s in New York, but who can really relate to the story. LIZ: I think that’s when you need this show the most, when you’re coming of age. ADAM: Yeah, I agree. LIZ: Do you feel any real life connections to the character you play? ANNALEIGH: Ooh I do. [laughs] MJ: I think we all have bits and pieces of the characters in us. ANNALEIGH: Every character that I play has an element of me that has to be present in the work otherwise I can’t connect. I wouldn’t do half the things that Maureen does because she’s a lot naughtier than I am — which is great to play everyday! LIZ: What advice do you have for young people interested in pursuing theatre? ANNALEIGH: Get involved, not just in your school theatre, but also if there’s anything in your community you should become a part of it. It’s a wonderful experience to work with older actors throughout your life. You should always be doing as much as you possibly can and always be considering why you’re doing it. ADAM: For me, all you have to do as a performer is listen to your heart and follow it and be fearless. Everything else kind of falls into place. MJ: I would encourage young people to start in youth workshops, somewhere where they can have mentors and someone to teach them. There are so many doors that are open and many close quickly. In order to keep your dream alive, go for what’s in front of you.