[Interview] The Cast of RENT

From 7-23 October, local theatre company Pangdemonium will be bringing an exciting musical, RENT, to our shores at Drama Centre Theatre.

The 20th Anniversary production revolves around a group of 20-somethings who anticipate a future filled with fear and uncertainty, social and political unrest, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

Based in New York in 1989/90 and illustrating the poverty of East Village, the play addresses controversial issues such as drugs, the LGBT community and HIV/AIDS.

The audience can expect to peek into the personal lives of a troubled club dancer, vagabond anarchist, “doomed” musician, a lesbian artist and more. Though the plot may seem somber, the play spreads messages about love, acceptance and moving on.

Directed by Tracie Pang and starring Tabitha Nauser, Benjamin Chow and Mina Kaye, this is not a production you would want to miss.

We catch up with some of the cast to find out what it’s like to be part of this widely-acclaimed modern classic and what the audience can expect from this groundbreaking musical.

The musical incorporates a couple of controversial themes, and Singapore is a rather conservative society- what made you want to bring RENT to a Singaporean audience?

Tracie: Pangdemonium decided that this is a great time for Singapore audiences to either revisit or introduce themselves to RENT.

The characters are young artists, consisting of the homeless, gay and straight characters, drag queens, strippers, junkies and HIV survivors; an unlikely community trying to find meaning in a world wishing they didn’t exist.

We still perceive gay lifestyles, drugs, and HIV as controversial but we have to accept that this is part of the modern world. Singapore may be conservative but we can’t put our head in the sand and pretend that LGBT people, drugs and HIV don’t exist in our community.

We have to engage, understand and not be scared of these issues.

Many know you for your amazing vocals. What sparked off your love for theatre?

Tabitha: I’ve always admired theatre. I was first exposed to theatre as a child because my dad would often play some of the soundtracks. My fondest memories are hearing the opera Madame Butterfly throughout the house.

Do you think you are similar to your character in RENT? What are some of her struggles?

Tabitha: Mimi and I are very different, she’s a dancing-HIV positive-drug addict, but there are certain traits that I can identify with. She’s a firecracker and she lives very much in the present. She’s quite playful but she uses that to her advantage. She values human connection quite a bit. As for her struggles, you have to come watch the show to find out what happens!

You’ve starred in two Stephen Sondheim musicals, playing Rapunzel in Into The Woods (2011) and Marta in Company (2013). Do you think fans will get to see a different side of you in RENT?

Mina Kaye: Oh, definitely! Maureen is very different from any of the other roles I’ve played before.  In a nutshell, you’ll get to see me play a quirky avant-garde lesbian artist who isn’t afraid of expressing herself. I’m really looking forward to it!

Why did you want to be part of this production, and what are some messages you’d like to convey to the audience?

Mina: Maureen has always been one of my dream roles and I’m very lucky to be part of this production. It definitely has a positive and uplifting message that is timeless. You learn that in the midst of difficult circumstances, you can choose love, acceptance, and kindness – which I think the world needs so much right now.

Tabitha: I’ve always been in love with RENT. I remember my cousin introducing it to me for the first time when I was about 13yrs old—the music stood out to me. I hope to share my love for the musical to a younger generation, because RENT to me is about friends, acceptance, moving on, society, trust, and love.

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RENT will be staged from 8-23 October 2016 at the Drama Centre Theatre.

by Natalie Kwan

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