And we’re rolling!

To lift some vocabulary from our filmmaker Mark Cohen, we’ve called “Action!” and we’re off and rolling on our production weekend!  The temperatures soared in London yesterday, as did levels of nerves, stress, and excitement amongst our cast and crew!

Following a review of some vocal arrangements we headed into the theatre, finished practicing when some props/furniture are struck from the stage, and got ready for showtime.


It wasn’t long before we were called to get into our places for the opening scene, and we were off and rolling.  On behalf of the cast, I’m fairly certain I can say it was a thrill to finally show our work with family, friends, and perhaps a few strangers.

To lift a line from Mark and Roger, “There is no future, there is no past. Thank God this moment’s not the last.”  Looking forward to our chance to do the show twice more today!


No day but…tomorrow!

Well, here we are at just over 24 hours from “curtains up” on the first show! Many of us are winding up our day jobs as we head to the theatre, getting ready to “tech” the show. We will spend tonight both on stage and backstage, prepping the microphones and lighting for the shows, as well as ensuring items are ready for the various entrances/exits.

It’s been a long but fulfilling process since we started the journey of this show back in January. Many of us have learned about new topics and areas related to performance–such as increasing our experience in learning choreography and blocking, or becoming inventive when sourcing a prop (when you realize five days out that glass isn’t allowed on stage!). Most of all, we’re excited to share what we’ve been working on with the audiences!

See you there on December 24th, 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time!

Torn Between a Devil and an Angel (by Roland Chu)

“Hi! I’m Angel!” In my daily work routine, these are words that would never come out of my mouth. Working at a top financial institute in London, the atmosphere is one of pressure and intimidation. When starting to play the role of Angel in RENT, I had to consider the difference between my work-life and private-life.

When I was younger (15 years old, to be exact), I was the only openly gay and pretty camp schoolboy in class—much like Kurt on the tv show Glee. On the good side, I was getting some sweet (but fake) attention from a few confused young schoolmates, who treated me like a princess while practicing their attention skills. Unfortunately, it also came with the consequences of being constantly bullied and stereotyped by most of the school. Being humiliated and laughed at on a daily basis were definitely not memories I wanted to have. The worst memory I have occurred during an inter-school competition, where it turned out I was being targeted by my own teammates, who planned to humiliate me on stage with my sexuality and feministic behaviour. I felt hit hard by this, and then decided not to trust anyone, and to try to hide my sexuality as much as possible.

Since that time, I have been trained and influenced by my mentors and families. In the business world, life is all about being tough and climbing the ladder of wealth to success—being logical and systematic are the two things that should come first. After a few years, I’ve hidden that sweet and soft ‘Angel’ from my younger self behind, burying it deep in my soul.

I’m very grateful for what I’ve achieved since that choir competition, but could always feel that a part of me is missing. This feeling of loss led me to travel half the globe, moving to London to seek what I had lost. And while I feel satisfied career-wise, spiritually, I am still lost.

It’s been while exploring the role and story behind the character of Angel that I’ve realized that I’ve been missing not only kindness and a giving heart, but also the fun “Bohemian” attitude. I could feel that these feelings have been imprisoned in my soul for years, leading me to forget about them. But through each passing rehearsal, these feelings are growing stronger, and I feel like I am refreshed and re-born. Despite feeling tired and exhausted from work, I have a smile after every rehearsal!

Now, the torn part for me is finding how to balance these feelings, and it’s like being at school all over again. The financial world is about money and selling, and is not the place for a camp, soft, angelic attitude. My heart is singing all the lovely songs from the show, but my head is telling me to keep this to a minimum.

What the hell am I getting into?!

The Making of Us (by Manuela Mongioi)

In 2006, I began watching the film version of the musical ‘RENT’ while on a long flight. There was 15 minutes left before the end when the film was stopped, as the plan had begun it’s landing procedures. Having been left hanging, my partner and I felt that we had to get our hands on a copy of the film as soon as possible, and a bit of research about the history of the show and some of it’s actors opened up a whole new world.

I had always known that I liked musicals–liking them enough to join a theatre company in high school and discover some milestone musicals. But all good things come to an end, and I left the comapny with the approach of exams (plus a raging crush on one of my teachers that shot “making a good impression” to the top of my list of priorities), missing out on their productions of ‘Grease’ and ‘HAIR’–which I of course went to see.

Fast forward 8 years when I decide to move to London. All of a sudden I have the entire West End at my disposal. There were huge American hits, such as ‘Wicked’ and ‘Avenue Q,’ that have just opened their London productions. I officially start making up for lost time, and in the past 5 years have seen on average 70 productions a year between West End, off-West End, regional and touring shows. Everyone remembers being taken to shows when they were little, and theatre in London is just a part of daily life. I have met children as young as 6 who have just come out of auditions, particularly when I was working in Covent Garden and ‘Oliver!’ was looking to turnover not just one, but three, teams of 40 child actors!

With this new insight into the industry, it is no wonder I somehow resent growing up in a country that doesn’t have a similar culture which encourages people to perform from a very young age.

So in the summer of 2009, after witnessing a life-changing concert from one of the West End’s finest stars, I decided that I should rekindle my love story with musical theatre at the venerable age of almost-27. I started taking private singing lessons and later joined a Musical Theatre beginners course at City Academy. The Musical Theatre Company was launched in September, and I auditioned for the second intake in January 2010 (and learned a valuable lesson–do not sing Jason Robert Brown at auditions; the pianist will hate you as it’s apparently very complex to play!).

Being part of the company, I feel I have a better understanding of the demands on various professional performers I have met and even on occasion befriended over the Last 5 Years (agh, theatre geek pun – don’t you love it?). Specifically, I’m talking about the sense of tight connection that you experience with your fellow cast members, who are effectively the only people who know exactly what challenges you are going through.

I have experienced the sensation of feeding off your casts’ energy and how when someone says their line just slightly different from the usual, it also results in your reaction being different. I’ve experienced the sense of awe of other people’s talent and dedication, and how there is no rivalry between a performer and their understudy–only mutual support.

For a group of people, none of whom do this as their main occupation in life, I think we have put together a show of an excellent quality. This has pushed and challenged every single one of us and I hope our audiences enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it, and I certainly hope that someone may even reconnect with their love of performing because of it.

Manuela (left) with castmate Roland

LOVE (by Jon Zecharia)

‘I love you.’ It’s weird isn’t it, how those three words can mean so many different things to so many different people. It could be: “I love you”, you’re an amazing friend, “I love you” cause I’m being sarcastic and jokey, “I love you” because I want to do naughty things to you, or “I love you” cause you’re the one that’s there for me.

Love is strange – that’s a fact. We all are capable of giving love. I think its safe to say we’re all a little scared of love – both giving and receiving it. And we’re told we need love if we ever want to ‘move on’. Love is part of everyone and everything whether we want it to be or not.

Jon as Collins

Now I’m going to be crazy in this article, rather than telling you my perils of playing Collins (my groovy, high, loved-up RENT counterpart) I want to explore what I see as the main theme in Rent: (you guessed it) Love!

The show’s slogan is ‘No Day but Today’ which comes from a bigger song in the show called ‘Another Day’. The line by itself is very moving, and can be a perfect mantra for many different avenues of our lives. Within the actual song, I feel it’s even more powerful: “I can’t control my destiny, I trust my soul. My only goal is just to be. There’s only now, there’s only here. Give in to love, or live in fear. No other path, no other way, no day but today.”

Give in to love. Why is it so hard for us to do? I’ve had many conversations about love and the ‘social requirements’ of needing to find a partner and settle down by a specific age – and I agree it’s a bit rubbish. As well as those conversations that love in the gay community lasts for about 2 hours (or 5 minutes…) – and I also agree it’s a bit rubbish.

However then I realised it’s not ‘love’ that I perceive as rubbish, but rather these ‘expectations’ of it. Of course I’m going to be against love if all of society is telling me I need it to be happy; of course I’m going to be against love if I’m pessimistic of how long it will last. But in reality, if you go along with the mantra ‘No day but today’ it really helps you out.

Who cares if society tells you that you need a partner? Love can come in any form, give love to those that you have around you today, and should the day come where there’s that special someone you’ll be happy to give love to them, should that day not happen…you can still love and be loved in return (the greatest gift according to Moulin Rouge)

Who cares if the love you experience last 5 minutes or 5 years, surely these bursts of emotion are what gets us going, are what makes us happy, obviously the ideal is for it to be long-term, but there’s nothing wrong with short term love. The amount of times I’ve gotten myself all giddy over a guy is insane (and yes I’m aware this isn’t ‘love’ but I’m grouping it with the similar emotions), but I’m addicted to that feeling to an extent. I’m happy getting that attention, of being fawned over, but equally of fawning over someone, or making sure that they’re happy.

You may have noticed that this blog is very odd, there’s no real flowing message and things are happening as they pop into my head – but isn’t that just love all over. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t quite flow, and it’s hard to express. When a friend is over the moon, your love for them elates you too, when a family member smiles at the present you got them, you smile with them, and when a partner falls down you get on your hand and knees and help them up.

Love is amazing, and we often forget that. We don’t realise how that extra compliment to a loved one can just brighten their day, or how making sure we’re spending time with loved ones can brighten ours. But sadly those moments can’t last forever, and we’ll always regret the times we didn’t make the most of our love, or let silly things get in the way. We forget that there’s no day but today.

The Way Back Home via RENT (by Joanna Reyes)

…or the Taste of her Cherry Chapstick

I was 17 when posters advertising open auditions for RENT appeared at my performing arts college in Holborn. I remember seeing the (now iconic) red and black poster and feeling excited that such a musical had been created. I had always wanted to be involved in a ‘rock musical’—having never been cut from the cloth of normal, and not one to follow the crowd, this was a show that I definitely could get onboard with. I poured over the poster, noting down all the criteria for auditions until I got to the age specification: 21 years old! I was gutted! But there was nothing I could do but wait for the years to pass, and hope I’d have my shot at auditioning in the future.

But as I was waiting, life happened.  I went to university, worked for a dance company after graduation, and managed to work my way up within the company until I became the programme co-ordinator , overseeing a team of volunteers as well as a dance programme of over 25 classes.  I stayed in Glasgow for seven years.  I fell in love and lost my desire to perform.  After auditioning for a post-graduate course in musical theatre seven times in a row, I took it as a sign that I should ‘be responsible’ and stop ‘trying to make it happen.’  Suddenly (or so it felt), I found myself back in London, working as a reservations manager in hospitality, wondering what happened to that girl who stood in front of that RENT poster.

Fate then played it’s hand as the recession hit.  I was made redundant in 2009, but found this to be the catalyst I needed to decide both that I wanted (and needed) to work in a creative environment, as well as to get back into performing.  But at the age of 30, how on earth do you do that?  I randomly picked up a flyer for City Academy in a pub, and didn’t even realise what it was advertising until the following day.  After looking at their website and catching a few YouTube videos, I decided to be brave and attend a ‘Musical Theatre’ taster class in August 2010.  Thankfully it wasn’t full of nubile teenagers, but rather a range of adults from different backgrounds.

So here I am, having completed an improvers Musical Theatre course with City Academy  in December, and am now embarking on the most exciting role of my life: ‘Joanne’ in RENT.  I’m actually anxious—beyond nervous—as it will be my first performance on stage in 6 years, and I want to do the role justice.  Actually, I want it to be AMAZING, but that’s just me!

Because not only are there lines, dancing, and harmonies to master, but my co-star and I have to convey a believable, loving relationship between us! A challenge on it’s own, another layer to this challenge is added by this RENT ‘lover’ being a woman (Maureen).  It doesn’t phase me that I’m playing a lesbian, or that I have to kiss Maureen, as I feel I’ve had bigger things asked of me in other shows.  Rather, what is most important to me is that the audience believes us as a couple, and that the emotion between us is real.  To help make this relationship authentic, my ‘honeybear’ and I went on a date.  I was surpised by the nerves I felt beforehand—what should I wear, where should I take her, what will impress her, will she like me?!

Watch this space…maybe Katy Perry was right with her line ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it….’

Beyond excitement about RENT (by Kerri Connors)

Rather than write a blog, Kerri has filmed a video-blog (vlog!) about her involvement in our production of RENT.

No One Ever Said It Was Going To Be Easy (by Beccy Reese)

On the surface I have a good life. I’m lucky. I have a job that is undemanding, a little dull but in no way stressful. I have enough solid friends who have been by my side for longer than The Pet Shop Boys have been together. I have lovely parents who are laid back and to date thankfully fit and well, you could never describe my family as a battleground. It’s all very easy. Maybe a bit too easy.

Recovering from a particularly hectic period in my life I decided to pick up some musical threads that had got left behind a long time ago. I discovered that the dots on the page still made some sense and that there was a hint of muscle memory in my dancing legs. With the wonderful support of teachers and class mates I’ve had a fabulous few months reconnecting with those long forgotten impulses.

And then along came RENT. I’d heard of the musical, but never really seen or listened to it. I was slightly bowled over to be asked to play the role of Jenny. Who? Well we don’t have enough guys in our group so it was decided that the role of Benjamin Coffin could be played female, as there’s plenty of playing around with gender roles in the show anyway. So now came the extra challenge of pretending to be someone that I’m not and I’m discovering that being a bitch can be a whole lot of fun!

So when it came to thinking about what to write for this blog I thought maybe I could tell you about the challenges of singing whilst trying to think and behave as Jenny might and remembering all the blocking and specific ways I need to interact with the other characters. Or I could talk about the fact, that unlike my current work, I am constantly faced with having to make decisions both as a character and in terms of helping behind the scenes with the show. Or perhaps go into some depth about hunting for the right costume. But then I thought what’s been the most significant thing to me about pulling this show together.

Most importantly, it hasn’t been easy. In some ways it’s seems like a long time since those heady audition days at the beginning of the year but with one scheduled rehearsal a week, we’ve had to learn our material fast. We’ve had to build a rapport as a company and navigate forming relationships between our stage characters and as individuals come together with the focus of hopefully pulling off a great show.

Monday evenings have become a wonderful time for me when I’m constantly asked to do new and difficult things. As well as enjoying the complexities I have also found that my life was lacking something else. Easy and placid is lovely but a life short of emotion is somewhat short of living. I’ve relished the joy as Angel and Collins fall in love, experienced frustration as Joanne and Maureen fight and make up, hoped that Mimi and Roger can find solace in each other to ease their pain, and watched Mark watch it all and wondered if he can found out who he is.  And on top of this rush of feelings, I’ve had to work hard to push away the self doubt and learn to let go of  a lot of stuff that gets in the way of trying ‘to be’ in a way that I’m not used to being. This wouldn’t have been possible without discovering a lot about trust and friendship along the way.

Me (left) practicing steps with Angel, while Collins discusses blocking with our AD

Making My Mark (by Justin Jeffreys)

Ever since I saw Rusty rollerblade in Starlight Express at the age of six (and nine subsequent times after that), I’ve longed to be on the stage – of course being the attention seeking school boy I was, I did the standard run of school shows, revelling in the build up, skiving off sports to practise my curtain call, and of course sulking if I didn’t get the lead…

Photo courtesy Marko Keser

Fast forward ten or so years (my City Academy peers said they thought I was 22 so I’m sticking with that), and my stage bound ambitions remain in tact – and finally I am appearing in my first full length musical production, as film maker Mark Cohen in RENT.

Of course to secure the role, it meant surviving the agonising audition process, where dreams were made and hearts were broken (sorry, but working in PR, it’s difficult to shake the press release speak), but after two weeks of crooning, call backs and trying to convince the panel that I’d Do Anything to play Mark, the part was mine.

All I had to do now was learn the lines, sing a few songs and hit the stage to wow the crowds…or so I thought. First came the odd hard to reach high note here and there, then the vocal rollercoaster harmonies, then the songs I’d conveniently skimmed over in the script, only to find were practically solo material.

My main ‘success story’ since joining City Academy was performing the part cabaret/part clownlike duet If You Were Gay from Avenue Q – the song had ‘entertainer’ written all over it – a flash of jazz hands, a knowing audience wink…but now it’s time to put the top hat back in the box and pull off a performance from within.

Mark is a complex, self aware, uncertain individual…at times the leader of the pack, at others the confused outsider battling both personal and professional demons. He guides the plot of the show through his insight and narration, from his carefree, anarchic beginnings through to his final scenes of life changing loyalty and aspiration.

Now I’m undertaking my biggest challenge – to find Mark’s voice (both in script and score), master the dizzy heights of what seem to be ever increasing octaves and even dust off the ballroom shoes to tackle a tricky Tango…just over four weeks to go and I’m determined to Make My Mark! 

How to approach a sign language interpreted performance (by Vicky Nunn)

RENT in BSL fingerspelling alphabet

I have been asked to interpret Rent into BSL – where do I begin? Not knowing the musical that well my starting point is the script and a copy of the soundtrack. One look at the script told me that this is not going to be an easy job. Aside from the fact that the vocabulary can be complex, and many of the songs are metaphorical – there is also the challenge of some of the songs being overlaid – with multiple characters singing different lines all at the same time – How do I even begin to approach that challenge?

My second step – ask for help! I have a friend who has interpreted Rent before – time to drop them a line and ask for their advice on how they chose to interpret it. Intrepreting is an art not a science – no two interpreters will interpret the same thing in the same way – but it will be useful to get her spin on things and to get a few tips.

This is the first time I will have interpreted a full musical (I have done songs and concerts before) and so is a new challenge for me. There are lots of things to think about. First is characterisation and how to portray this through my interpretation – whilst the actors have one character to play, I have to do them all, and make it clear for the Deaf audience who is speaking/singing.  I also have to think about musicality and phrasing – to convey a sense of the music in my signing, attempting to match the phrasing of the music with the phrasing of my signing.

For now I will be obsessively reading the script and listening to the soundtrack. Learning the songs will help me when it comes to thinking about how to interpreting them – it is very hard to interpret songs “off the cuff” (I learnt that whilst interpreting at Glastonbury when I THOUGHT I knew the lyrics to songs – turns out I didn’t!)

Once I have learnt the songs then I will start to think about how they will work in BSL. Are there concepts that will be difficult to get over in BSL? How will I interpret the metaphorical concepts? What lexical choices will I make – will I need to drop anything or add something to make it more accessible for the Deaf audience.

Then we come to the rehearsals. I need to attend the rehearsals script in hand to block out where the characters will be on stage in each scene. This will effect how I move my body when interpreting each character (a concept called role shift in BSL linguistics) I hope to have the opportunity to have a full run through with the cast – so that I can see where I need to be and what I need to do, and so the cast can get used to the strange woman in the corner waving her arms about.