Rent the Musical is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary by returning to South Africa. Led by a cast of fresh-faced newbies, the Stephan Fourie Theatre Company helmed production will embark on a run at Artscape in February followed by a run at the Joburg Theatre in April. We recently had the opportunity to chat with the female ensemble of the show during rehearsals. You can click here to listen to the cast perform “Seasons of Love” live on the Expresso Show.
What does it feel like to be part of this production?
Jessica Kohler: It feels very fulfilling because the work that we are working with and the material that we are working with is very authentic. As an artist who genuinely enjoys theatre and musicals, on a personal level, it is very nice to work through material that is important in that realm.
Robyn Ivey: What has been amazing is not only working on a great musical but working with people who love musical theatre. I am in my fourth year in college so I’m used to working with the same people over and over again but to work with people outside of the college, who bring something new to a production, is very exciting. And you can kind of see where you are at and where you need to push a little bit. This musical pushes you out of your comfort zone in many ways and it gets you comfortable with people very quickly. It is just a great experience.
Maya Spector: I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this musical so far because for my own personal reasons, aside from the story and knowing a lot of people who have gone through the actual storyline, dying from diseases, not just aids but artists who are struggling to make ends meet all the time, this is my sixth year since I haven’t been in musical theatre so it’s a welcome back to me. It’s amazing to be with such amazing young and talented people. They have just been so open and so able to communicate with just who you are as a person. You can also just bring who you are to the characters that you are playing. You are playing kind of yourself in a fun way.
Bonolo Makhele: What is really exciting about this, for me, is that with a musical of this caliber, a lot of the time people would associate it with more famous actors and performers. What is really refreshing for me is that we are all young. We are all relatively fresh out of school or wherever but we are still new to the industry. For us to be able to represent such powerful characters who are so well known, it is a lot of pressure but I feel like as the contemporary South African musical theatre performers, it is really cool to be able to stand in these positions and get ready to give South Africa this type of show as new people in the industry.
Tara Macpherson: I personally love musicals to pieces. To be in a musical and especially a musical with such beautiful music, beautiful lyrics, it has such a wonderful message, it’s so exciting to be with people who are so passionate about the show. Everyone is on the same journey together. Everyone is on the same page. I think we also relate so strongly to these character’s because they are so passionate about their craft. It means something to them. I think we can all relate to that. That is really exciting for me.
Tammy de Klerk: It’s very exciting. I feel like it is a newish production company. It’s a new group of people. We all come from different backgrounds. We don’t really know what we are in for because I don’t know if Stephan (Fourie) has done something on this scale before. I don’t know if Byron (Bure) has done anything on this scale before. I’m excited to go to Joburg. I think the biggest thing for me is just excitement.
It is the 20th anniversary of Rent. It’s a groundbreaking musical that defined and changed musical theatre as the generation above us knew it. Was there any kind of pressure around the fact that it is such a big well known musical which deals with such incredible subject matter?
Tammy de Klerk: We have just started the acting phase of the rehearsal process. We have done a lot of singing and some choreography but in terms of how we are attacking the musical that hasn’t really come up in our experience yet. I think that what’s important is that whether its the 10th anniversary or the 20th anniversary is that we are staying true to what Rent is. We are trying to communicate the message of Rent which I think is inclusion. If anything I don’t think it’s important that it’s the 20th anniversary but I think it’s about what Rent stands for today and what it can echo to today’s audiences about diversity and inclusion and tolerance and acceptance.
Jessica Kohler: And how it’s still important.
Tara Macpherson: I think a lot of us don’t have to necessarily feel pressure. It’s the fact that these characters are so universal and you are able to go so many routes with these characters. There is no one right way to do these kind of characters. They are so transferable to people you see today. You could see Angel on the street. You could meet a Roger. You’ve probably met a Mark somewhere.
Maya Spector: What I love about the musical, and I’m sure that a lot of us do, it’s not archetypal musical theatre voices. You are allowed to be authentic about the voice that you have. You are allowed to be more of yourself as an actual person instead of playing a character. There is less pressure, I’m feeling, to be a perfect musical theatre kind of person because the musical did change many kind of outlooks on how musicals were supposed to be.
Obviously quite a few people are familiar with Rent. What do you hope that your audience takes away from this production?
Bonolo Makhele: Blatantly something fresh. Obviously it is a new diverse cast. Naturally Rent is a fairly diverse production but in this case I think that we have so many different kinds of people, so many bodies on stage that are beautiful in their own right. I am hoping that the audience will take something fresh from what we have to give to them.
Jessica Kohler: Especially because we are in South Africa and it is not a musical that is very often done, it is especially important here because the diversity is so vast. I think the varsity of diversity in our cast alone speaks for that. I hope that even though it is within a New York context and obviously the 1990’s, as we were saying earlier, it can still apply to today but it applies in a different way. Hopefully that message will translate into a contemporary message as opposed to just staying in the 1990’s. There are important things that need to be addressed in the musical and in reality.
Tammy de Klerk: Just to second what Bonolo said, we’ve actually had this discussion as a cast, in terms of representation of musical theatre in South Africa and what that means to audiences and children looking in musicals and in theatre and who the kind of people are who are involved in performing in musical theatre as a genre. I hope that this show communicates to South Africa that there is a diverse pool of talent and that it shows that and that we can inspire youth in every form and background and culture to develop their talents and to dream and to look forward to a kind of future that they can have in the performing arts.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
Jessica Kohler: Learning La Vie Bohème.
Tammy de Klerk: La Vie Bohème definitely so far.
Maya Spector: I think that when we are watching the rehearsal as the ensemble and watching the principles do their thing, it is really lovely to be able to see what we are trying to reflect back as a cast. The actual story. Sometimes when you are in all the rehearsals all the time or you are on stage all the time, it is very hard to see what the actual show is representing for other people. Each character is so intense but they are so believable but also so unbelievable at the same time because they are just so the extreme of every kind of personality that you could have. My personal favourite is Roger. He is just so intense all the time and I can only imagine what he would be like as a real person waking up every morning.
Tara Macpherson: I think that one of my personal favourites is when we are doing the sing-throughs. We were doing the big chorus numbers, especially towards the end of the musical, there are so many times where our voices came together and it did get me kind of emotional and kind of excited about what the end is going to look like.
Maya Spector: The music of the ensemble is some of the prettiest, most complicated music for probably a lot of theatre work. These guys are just so skilled and so great. It’s lovely to see people going and being disciplined and doing their work at home and coming back and having a really good rehearsal because everybody has really taken the time and energy to love what they are doing. It’s not a moment of the show but a moment of just being together.
Robyn Ivey: It’s great as a cast because we are not afraid to tell each other what the other person is doing wrong. We are so encouraging of each other and of the character’s. It’s a great place where we can explore different parts of our characters. It’s great to work with a cast that is so passionate and encouraging.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Bonolo Makhele: I would have to go with Terry Pheto. A lot of people just associate her with her role in Tsotsi but they don’t know that she has her own production company and she is working on the most beautiful stuff, not only as an actress but as a producer as well. I just look so forward to one day, god willing, working with her. She is just constantly inspiring me as an actress. I constantly see her doing so much for the industry as a young woman and a young black woman as well. It’s incredibly inspiring. I just hope to one day reach that level.
Maya Spector: To bring it back to Cape Town, there is a lady named Jill Levenberg. She is an incredible actress, singer, director, producer, coordinator…can I swear?
Maya Spector: …F*cking everything. She does a lot for the upliftment of youth and women empowerment. She is making big waves. She is going to be a huge thing. She’s actually told me that she is excited that this musical is going to be on. I am so excited hoping that she has time to come and watch it.
Robyn Ivey: Mine is Charon Williams-Ros. She was just in Annie and Sweeney Todd. She’s from Durban. I’m from Durban and she directed me when I was younger in something called Rainbow Young Performers Project. I was also under her singing school. All of a sudden she decided that she wanted to go back into theatre and gets the two biggest leading roles. It is really inspiring. When I saw her after Annie, she gave me the most exciting hello ever which was so lovely and it’s nice to see that someone you know, who does so well can still be so respectful and still make you feel so special.
Jessica Kohler: It’s not necessarily my top number one woman but right now at the moment there’s a girl that I studied with. Her name is Donna Cormack-Thomson. Donna has always in my experience, been a phenomenal actress and she has always been hardworking. Her first year coming into the industry as a professional, she got very ill and she lost a lot of weight because of her illness and because of that had to face a lot of backlash from everyone else in the industry. The biggest thing that inspired me about Donna is that she never allowed anyone else’s opinion about her control her life. She stepped back into whatever she wanted to do. She went back in with a force double as hard. She never allowed anyone’s opinion to dominate her world view and I think that is a phenomenal trait to have as a South African woman arts and something that everyone needs to have. That to me was why she was the first person to come to my mind. It’s inspiring because we went to the same university.
Tara Macpherson: Theres so many to pick from. Which one do you pick? I think I’m going to go with Kimberly Buckle. She is an upcoming playwright and she has done so many plays already. I’ve known her and I’ve seen her journey and what I admire so much about her is that she takes very real people and real characters and she puts them in very real situations but the way she stages things and her concepts are so interesting and so engaging that even people who are not regular theatre goers go and have the time of their lives or they come out having very intense conversations afterwards. It promotes thinking which not a lot of people like to do. She also does it in a very funny way as well. She knows how to poke fun at people while the real serious stuff is happening.
Tammy de Klerk: I’m going to go with Tara Notcutt. I’ve spent a little bit of time with her because I was on the Cape Town Edge at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival this year and last year and I’ve seen quite a lot of her shows and I really appreciate that they are South African. I think she creates a lot of really great thought-provoking work.
Rent begins performances at Artscape on February 16th and runs until February 25th. Tickets can be purchased here. The Joburg run of Rent will take place from 28th of April- 7th May at The Joburg Theatre.
Be sure to visit the Stephan Fourie Facebook page for updates on the Cape Town and Joburg run of Rent as well as behind the scenes content.
Special thanks to Candice Burgess and Candice van Litsenborgh