Given the musical he’s directing, Gord Davis had no shortage of young performers auditioning for parts. In fact, The Singer’s Theatre had the largest turnout ever for Rent, which will be staged Aug. 20-22.
Since its debut in ’96, Rent has struck a chord with young people, drawing huge crowds of those not usually associated with live theatre. It’s a natural fit, then, for a group that offers intensive workshop training for young people, a two-week grind that culminates in performances before an audience.
“The young people were really eager to do this one. When I got them together, I asked them why; for some it was the music, but most of them said, ‘It’s about us. It’s about real people … about issues important to us,’” said Davis, who’s had plenty of experience working with young actors.
He’ll need all that savvy to work into shape some 50 performers – 13 to 22 years of age – in just 10 days. Having started on Monday, he has until next Friday to prepare them for what’s coming. He’ll put them through their paces via intensive workshops that get them up to speed quickly, just like what would happen with a professional production.
“My goal is to give them that feeling of how a professional show is put together.”
The goal is to foster young talent, performers who might like to pursue a career in theatre, perhaps. The Singer’s Theatre program is hard work, but it pays off in well-polished productions, including past stagings of Les Miserables, Titanic, Parade, Jekyll and Hyde, Cats and Rags.
Inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent is a joyous and often bittersweet musical that celebrates a community of artists as they struggle between high hopes and the tough realities of today’s world.
Johathan Larson’s updated tale introduces us to a group of hip, young urban friends struggling to come to terms with their little slice of the world, dealing with drug addiction and AIDS (the plague of the day that replaces La Bohème’s tuberculosis).
Mark is a documentary filmmaker and ex-boyfriend to Maureen, a performance artist now dating Joanne, a neurotic human rights lawyer. Roger is a depressed HIV-positive musician, and Mimi is an HIV-positive exotic dancer and drug addict who works her way into Roger’s heart. Collins, a friend of Mark and Roger’s, starts a relationship with Angel, an HIV-positive drag queen.
Mark and Roger are being evicted by their former friend-cum-landlord, Benny, to make room for a digital, state-of-the-art cyber-arts studio.
This is not your grandfather’s Puccini.
The updated story, filled with rock music, reveals to us real people that audiences – particularly young people who don’t usually go to live theatre – can relate to.
While some productions bring a loud, ringing rock-show vibe to Rent, Davis is looking to focus on the singing – not drowned out by the music – and the story.
“We’re being very careful to make the story very clear,” he said, noting he’s working on the assumption people in the audience won’t be overly familiar with the musical.
“I told them I want [their] grandparents to be able to come and to enjoy themselves,” he said of his young charges.
All of the young performers have seen the movie version; others have seen theatrical versions or the DVD recording of the last Broadway production. They’ll draw on that for inspiration.
The Singer’s Theatre production of Rent runs Aug. 20 (8 p.m.), Aug. 21 (2 and 8 p.m.) and Aug. 22 (2 p.m.) at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts (formerly the King Street Theatre Centre) in Kitchener.
Tickets are $21, available at www.ticketscene.ca or at the door. Visit www.thesingerstheatre.ca for more information.