When RENT was developed at the New York Theatre Workshop, the Artistic Director of the theatre at that time was Jim Nicola. He remains the AD to this day, and he came to SUNY Fredonia at the behest of his Tufts College theatre department colleague Jefferson Westwood, who is the Director of the Rockefeller Arts Center. Mr. Nicola spoke to the students for about one hour, giving them some inside information about his relationship with Jonathan Larson, the backstage struggles that took place in producing the show, what took place and the decisions made immediately after Mr. Larson’s untimely death, and the nature of running a theatre such as the NY Theatre Workshop. Mr. Nicola is seeing the Theatre and Dance production of the show on Firday 4/11 and will talk to the students again on Saturday 4/12 after seeing the production to discuss the current trends in musical theatre. We are most excited, honored and proud to have Mr. Nicola, who was there right at the beginning, see this production of RENT. Thanks to Jefferson Westwood for making this happen for our students.
Pictured below from left to right: Prof. Tom Loughlin, Chair of Theatre and Dance and the director of RENT; Mr. Jim Nicola, Artistic Director, NY Theatre Workshop; Mr. Jefferson Westwood, Director, Rockefeller Arts Center. Photo by Shane Zimmerman.
The Theatre and Dance production of RENT has virtually sold out! The show has received very positive and appreciative feedback, and we are so glad our audiences are enjoying this production.
The following is a review of the show written by Dr. Robert Deemer, Associate Professor in the School of Music. It appeared in the Dunkirk Observer and is reprinted with the author’s permission.
It is rare for a musical to win both a Tony Award for Best Musical as well as a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, but Rent, Jonathan Larson’s modernized version of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, won both prizes and has become a mainstay in the musical theatre canon. Rife with contemporary story lines and songs that are both memorable and insightful, the musical is an obvious choice for college-age performers and SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Theatre & Dance has put together a high-quality production of Rent that features the singing and acting talents as well as the designing skills of their students and faculty.Set in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Rent follows the tragic and intertwining relationships between a group of eight friends living in New York City’s East Village over the course of a year. While characters in La Boheme were afflicted with tuberculosis, one of the major diseases of the late 19th century, the characters in Rent face life suffering from or under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Throughout the musical, the epidemic runs just under the surface of the story as the group of friends forge and destroy loves and friendships, all the while dealing with both poverty and the overhanded policies of what today would be termed the “1%”.Many musicals allow the audience to latch onto one or two main characters and follow them through the story, but Rent presents a challenge to those presenting it by creating a vast interweaving story that necessitates a large and talented cast. Fredonia’s students met that challenge head on and do a formidable job of bringing each character to life and making the audience believe in their relationships and their tragedies. Jordan Louis Fischer and Clayton Howe hold their own very well as Marc and Roger, the roommates that serve as the two primary characters throughout the show. Clayton had several standout songs in the show (“I Should Tell You” in particular) and Fischer continually steals the show with his quirky personality and spot-on camerawork. Roger’s love interest, Mimi, is brought to life with a gymnastic flair by Ilana Lieberman - her writhing portrayal is electric throughout. Steven Saezler as Angel and Nakiya Peterkin as Joanne both grabbed my attention and didn’t let go and Kadeem Davis (as Tom Collins) and Alex Grayson (Benjamin) were quite effective, but top kudos have to go to Jaclyn Rahmlow, whose performance as Maureen is downright amazing in its raw intensity.Rock musicals always bring certain challenges to a college production, both in sound reinforcement and in bringing a believable score to life stylistically without overpowering the singers and, for the most part, the production pulled these challenges off well. The house band, located on stage within the set itself, was ably directed by Raymond Stewart (who also played bass in the five-piece ensemble) and kept the energy hot from top to bottom. Sydney Thomas’s choreography was effectively natural, as many of the dance pieces were blended into the entire show that you were never sure when the dances started and stopped - one notable exception was “Maureen’s Tango”, performed with fire by Fischer and Peterkin.The first thing that hits an audience member as they enter Marvel Theater is the massively intricate three-story set that covers the entire stage. Screens serve both as windows in the building where the musical is set but also as screens that project video being shot in real time by Fischer (a neat technical feat that adds a wonderful new dimension to the visual environment of the production. If that wasn’t enough, halfway through the first act, the elevator that seemed to be just a piece of scenery suddenly began to transport characters. Lit well by Jacob Brinkman’s lighting design, Hyla Sue Stellhorn’s scenic design does as much as anything in the production to transport the audience to the East Village, which was fitting as this will be the last musical to have a large set for the next few years due to the upcoming renovations of Rockefeller Arts Center.Set for six performances, Rent promises to be a solid and enjoyable evening for anyone interested in contemporary musicals. The acting, singing, dancing, music, and sets combine for a visceral roller-coaster of an evening that will undoubtably move audiences in many ways and make one think as much as sing on the way home. The performances will be at 7:30 on April 4-5 and 10-12 and a 2pm matinee on April 6 with tickets being available at the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office and at the door.Rob DeemerAssociate Prof. of Music Composition
(But first, let us recap from pre-spring break)
—Dancers involved in Angelika Summerton’s FDE piece as well as Sydney Thomas’s senior recital traveled to Ohio the week before break to participate in the annual ACDFA Dance conference. They took classes, performed on the mainstage, and had a great time working with new teachers and choreographers. To read more about their adventures, check out #acdfa2014 #donutshirt on twitter!
Just finished my last class at ACDFA…finally felt like a confident dancer for the first time in over 2 years and it felt great #donutshirt Abby Donegan (@done_eegan) March 5, 2014
The best part of this Monday is that I get to take awesome dance classes all day. Next up: 1970s Broadway Jazz! #donutshirt #ACDFA Steve Russell (@UncleSteepen) March 3, 2014
—Audiences were thrilled to watch students from the Department of Theatre and Dance as well as the School of Music perform in Opera scenes at the Fredonia Opera House. Some of the backstage technicians were also students in the technical theatre program here at Fredonia!
—Students in the B.A. program must complete a capstone project of their own design when they become seniors. Many of these projects are underway! I will share two with you in this post. Jessica Ames now has a cast for her presentation of 6 All in the Timing one act plays by David Ives. Tom Sullivan will soon be auditioning for his production of Krapp’s Last Tape, which he is excited to direct this spring.
—The Performing Arts Company’s Comedy of Errors had their first full run through the day before break, and the cast is ready for the weather to warm up so they can bring this “Shakespeare-in-the-park” style show outdoors! The show goes up April 25th and 26th with tickets available in the SUNY Fredonia Central Ticket Office.
—Sophomore BFA students are beginning to prepare for their barrier performances in which they will be asked to sing, act, and dance for the entire TADA faculty. What an excellent opportunity to showcase all they have learned in their first 2 years at Fredonia. It also marks the halfway point in their college experience - time flies!
—Can you believe that production meetings are already underway for NEXT YEAR’S SEASON? It’s true! A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Tom Loughlin, began meeting several weeks ago to begin conceptual conversations for what is sure to be a marvelous production.
—TADA students from the freshman through senior classes traveled to NYC and Boston this past weekend to attend Strawhat and NETC audition conferences in pursuit of summer and year-round theatre jobs. There were lots of callbacks and even some job offers, so stay tuned for more information once everyone begins making decisions about where they want to work!
—Film majors are hard at work on their capstone movies to be shown this spring. Many of our actors are involved in the projects and are exited to be working on the big screen, some for the first time.
—The Student Dance Organization is hosting a mock audition workshop for Cruise Line auditions this coming Friday. It should be a great experience - check out their page for details!
—Bob Rusch, a successful film actor from L.A. as well as the owner of SkyPilot Theatre is coming to Fredonia this weekend to give 3 workshops to students about Film Acting, Playwriting, and Managing a production company. Workshops are open to everyone, so come join us if you are in town!
—Finally, the most important news of the day, RENT!! Check out this article on the university’s home page, and get your tickets ASAP! The actors, musicians, technicians, creative staff have all been working tremendously hard on this great musical and we would hat for you to miss out!
—As you can see there are many things happening around here, as always. If you don’t already follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well you should start now for more frequent updates on our department and students!
by Shelby Converse
At the PaleyFest 2014, there was a How I Met Your Mother panel which interviewed the cast of HIMYM, including the uber-talented Cristin Milioti.
One of the questions asked was for advice on acting. Her marvelous co-star Alyson Hannigan offered up the suggestion “definitely get other hobbies.” (and shared some of rejection stories – how could have anyone rejected Alyson Hannigan?!) but it was Cristin Milioti’s advice that inspired this post:
"Don’t go to theater school. Roll around in a dark room and pay someone 80K and BAM! You got a BFA."
Okay, I am actually getting a BA but I’m been rolling in the same dark room as my BFA classmates for the last four years so I’ll take a stab at this one.
Yep, I actually paid that much for my degree. Or, I will have as I start paying it back later this year. And yep! I do spend a lot of my classes rolling around. I remember a day from sophomore year, when I actually rolled around in the dark and we called it an acting exercise.
So for this blog post, I pulled out my acting journal and I found what I had written about that day: from walking blind-folded across the studio “like a tightrope walker”; how we would touch each other to establish who and where they were. When we started establishing long-distance communication through clapping and finger-snapping and stomping until we had all found each other. I wrote about how we then partnered up and what it was like to be led blind-folded around the room. I wrote that I “couldn’t help, but laugh” as I ran holding another leader’s hands.
My notes from that day sound silly and even trivial. Just something fun. I mean, we were laughing and clapping our hands. But at the bottom of the page, I wrote down in quotation marks: “By being brave, we realize we are not alone.”
These have been my favorite classes, the ones I spent rolling around, making friends with the floor and letting it catch me every time I fell down (a lot. I’ve fallen down a lot over the past four years). And the dark? I learned from being in the dark, like what to do when I can’t see what to do; how to reach out and find others who are also in the dark and looking for someone to trust, and yes – I’ve learned how to be brave.
If I am going to graduate with a BA, I’m glad I got to learn how to roll around in the dark before I have to do it in the real world in two months. I have a feeling that real world floors are going to hurt a lot more to fall down on but this is where I start getting to be brave.
P. S. As Tom Loughlin informed me:
@ShelbyConverse “(Cristin) took acting classes at NYU, dropped out during her freshman year. Still listed as an alumna in Tisch’s advertising.”— Tom Loughlin (@apoorplayer)March 18, 2014