Reflections on “RENT” – my “Without You”

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to insure that I wouldn’t forget these magical theatrical experiences I have as an audience member when I go to the theatre. It also serves as way for me to formulate my opinions and ideas on what I see. Since starting this blog, I’ve only been writing about the shows I’ve seen because I wasn’t performing in anything. Over the summer, I had the opportunity perform Mark in RENT at City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose.

Back in 1998

Ever since I was 17, when I heard the cast recording for the first time, I’ve wanted to play Mark. The role spoke to me in a way that no other role has. To this day, there still hasn’t been any roles that radiate to me as much as Mark in RENT. I became obsessed. Even though I lived on the West Coast, I was a bonafide Renthead. I listened to the cast recording almost everyday. I bought the vocal selections when they came out and sang every song over and over. I learned how to play all of the songs on the piano. I was completely obsessed. It became my dream to play the role of Mark on Broadway.

In June 2000, I had the opportunity to go and visit my brother and his family in Brooklyn and see New York City for the first time. I was awe-struck. My first Broadway show wasn’t RENT – it was Aida. But, I saw RENT the very next day when I won the lottery and sat on the front row. (That’s when my luck started with the lottery because I now rarely lose.) In retrospect, I think that night was a turning point in my life. I fell in love with musical theatre, RENT, and Broadway on that day. I always knew I liked it before and I even thought it would be an awesome career path for me, but seeing RENT ultimately changed my life because I knew I had to work in musical theatre, as cheesy and ridiculous as it sounds.

Luckily, the girl I sat next to was taping it with her tape-recorder. (Yes, I know, illegal. I don’t condone the behavior, but I was naive then.) I exchanged my info with her and she graciously sent it to me in the mail. I listened to the tapes everyday for the next two years on my way to school, at home, wherever and whenever I could. About a year later, I was cast in a musical revue that was featuring songs from new musicals (even ones that weren’t even released yet — again, illegal, but I had no idea then). I got to sing “What You Own” for three nights with a karaoke accompaniment. I was on cloud nine. If only I could have the chance to perform the whole show.

Fast forward almost 10 years

In March, I was chatting with another musical director, Gus Kambeitz, on Facebook about our upcoming gigs we had planned. He mentioned that he was musically directing RENT at City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose. I jokingly asked, “Can I come to the call-back for Mark?” He answered, “Sure, that would be great. It’s Saturday at 9am; be there.” It was Tuesday. To be honest, I was working on another show and I completely forgot about the audition till Friday night. I ran through Mark and Roger’s songs once and called it a night. I woke up and put on my “Mark outfit” (which ultimately was the same costume I wore in the show — down to the shoes) and went to the theatre. I had been preparing for this audition for over 10 years! I sang, “What You Own” and 20 minutes later I was done. No audition anxiety — just went in and sang my heart out.

Literally, an hour later, Lisa Malette, the director, called me and told me I got the role. I was flummoxed. “Are you serious?” I asked. Malette responded, “Of course! We would love to work with you.” I put down the phone and seriously did a “happy” dance for a good 20 minutes while screaming “I’m going to be in RENT!!” My dream of playing Mark was coming true. It was unreal.

Rehearsals started in May. This role meant a lot more to me than anything I’ve previously performed and I was ecstatic and yet, still quite vulnerable and scared that I wouldn’t do it justice. When I walked into rehearsals the first day I knew I was in the right place. All of my anxiety went away. The cast was perfect. And to make it even better, Malette talked about how she wanted to stay true and just tell the story. She also wanted to make sure that HIV & AIDS awareness/education was a very important part of this production. Again, I knew I was in the right place at the right time. And so the journey began…

Fast forward three months

It’s over.

One of the hardest, yet most rewarding chapters of my life came to a close when we struck the set on Sunday night after our closing afternoon performance. Five weeks of performing RENT was not nearly enough. Every night when I went to the theatre, I knew I was sharing a story that focused on life, love and family/friends – things that we take for granted so often. It was finally my turn to share the story that ultimately changed my life. Luckily for me, I got to perform with a cast that was talented, amazing and literally became my extended family over the course of the three months.

Every night I looked forward to several different moments in the show. I was going to write them all down, but then realized that every time I was on stage I had an amazing moment with an actor, the music or with the Larson’s touching story. My all-time favorite moment was watching Mimi, Megan Woodruff, sing her heart out in “Another Day” opposite Roger, Brian Palac. When Woodruff sang, “…there is no future, there is no past, I live this moment as my last…” my heart would melt. I mentioned in our talk-back with the audience, that this line was my favorite moment in the show. This to me, is the sentiment of Larson’s story. You never know what can happen so live for today. It was such a blessing to be reminded to live in the now, every night. It was magical to see the audience’s emotions transform over the length of two hours. Singing, “No day but today…” over and over into the eye’s of the audience at the end of the show is something I’ll never forget.

I will miss singing “Tango Maureen” with the fierce, Nicole Julien (Joanne) and “rolling with my homies” with Adam Barry (Angel) in “Santa Fe”. I’ll never forget Matt Bariletti’s (Benny) comic mocking of Maureen, Jacqui Elliot, in “La Vie Boheme” and Jami James (Collins) heartfelt rendition of “I’ll Cover You”. I’m going to miss singing “What You Own” with the talented Brian Palac (Roger) — he inspired me every night. I also loved the moment I would connect with Shannon Stowe in “What You Own” during the third verse. I’m going to miss seeing Megan Woodruff (Mimi) and Ashley Bawdon’s smile in “Seasons of Love” every night while the talented soloists, Michelle Ianiro and Cory Jones, sang their hearts out. I waited to hear Jeanette Zelaya sing the descant in “Will I?” every night; it was beautiful and heart wrenching. Of course, I won’t ever forget performing “La Vie Boheme” next to Allie Glatt, our waiter, Ever Leon, and the rest of the cast. But most of all, I’ll miss our RENT circle when we would come together every night, right before places, to focus our energy and remind each other to tell Jonathan Larson’s story. And we did, each night.

Each of my cast mates, crew, band, director/choreographer will have a special place in my heart forever. I learned so much from them – they pushed me to be better every night, laughed with me (and at me), got upset with me, listened to me, and unraveled the many layers of my personality throughout the three months. I truly love each one of them. I wasn’t ready for this experience to be over — five weeks wasn’t nearly long enough to tell this story. It was an honor to perform each night to a sold-out house – an unexpected blessing that rarely comes in the theatre.

This post is dedicated to each of my cast mates, Jonathan Larson and every person who supported me on this journey. Without them, I would have never had the amazing experience that I had. Without Jonathan Larson, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

No day but today.


6 thoughts on “Reflections on “RENT” – my “Without You”

  1. This is breathtaking….another layer. Spence the poet! I ♥ you more than you will ever know. Your respect and friendship really matter to me. Thank you for sharing your heart and your talent with all of us. I look forward to more magic with you in the future!
    Michelle aka Sheniqua Latoya Amaretto Jones…

  2. I am so happy for you and that this experience was everything you needed it to be…and more! Congratulations on a successful run!

  3. Wow, this is incredible!!! I absolutely love Mark as well, I feel like hes a character I can most identify with as well. Its incredible how a show like RENT can touch so many people in so many different ways.

  4. Wow, what a wonderful story! Thank-you for sharing it. I’m so happy you got to play this role & I wish I could have seen you onstage.

  5. We couldn’t have done it without your strength (mental and physical) and your passion for this message. You will always be our Mark and we love you very much.

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