The hit Broadway musical Rent will rock the Vancouver area August 4th through 23rd at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. GayVancouver.Net had an opportunity to check-in with director Ryan Mooney about the upcoming production and his company, Fighting Chance Productions.
When Rent first came on the scene back in 1996 AIDS was still a pretty hot topic. In 2009 it doesn’t get as much “air time” – do you see this as an opportunity to bring AIDS back to the forefront? In other words, why Rent, why now?
When I first realised the rights for Rent were available I had the same reaction, why Rent, why now? I was a pretty big “RentHead” when I was younger (I saw the show 14 times from here to New York to San Francisco to Bellingham) so I was obviously very familiar with the material. There are certainly things that were not as “hot topic” as they are now. For example, to the best of my knowledge most people living with HIV aren’t taking AZT now. However just last month homeless shelters closed in Vancouver because certain people in certain areas of town took a NIMBY attitude and complained until they were closed. Homelessness is still very much a hot topic, especially in Vancouver. With all the recent arts cuts living as an artist is set to become harder and harder – that’s certainly a topic that’s very relevant in Rent too. So while there is certainly more education around HIV and AIDS than there was when Rent was written, the topics that Rent covers are just as relevant now as they were then.
Rent is a pretty iconic musical for a generation. Are you and your team up to the challenge?
Well I think it’s a pretty iconic musical for my generation – so absolutely. I remember Rent when it was a stage show and not a movie. I think what we’re trying to do is honour the original without imitating it. Mimi may not be wearing blue pants and we’re not doing the quintessential La Vie Boheme dance (much to the dismay of some cast members), however what we are trying to do is capture the heart of the story. Before Rent became a Broadway hit, it played off-Broadway in a 150 seat theatre – coincidentally Presentation House has 158 seats. What I’m very excited about is this is going to be the first time it’s been presented in Vancouver in such an intimate venue. We have the full band, all our performers will be mic-d, I don’t think anything is going to be lost by being in a smaller venue.
Are you afraid of comparisons to the original show?
There are always going to be people who compare. Quite frankly I think we have a better cast than many I saw on tour. We have cast members who are actually playing the ages that the characters are supposed to be. We had someone on Facebook invite comment that they just saw Anthony Rapp & Adam Pascal do the show in Seattle, so they were worried it wouldn’t be as good. Not to take anything away from either of those actors – but they’ve gotta be pushing forty now. Our cast is the most solid cast I’ve ever worked with. I trust they’re going to blow previous interpretations out of the water.
Sounds like the audition process for this production of Rent was pretty intense. How many actors did you see?
225. It was awesome, intense, tiring. The best thing was how many people came and just said “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do this show.” I think it’s a scary show to mount (because of the expectations) and therefore I think it might’ve been a while before someone attempted it here in Vancouver.
In your blog back on July 13th you mention not being happy with the opening number and you were re-working it. How has that process gone for you? Are you happy with it now?
Absolutely. I should clarify. I was not happy with the staging I had done, not the number itself. I’m thrilled with it now. It needs to blow the audience out of the theatre, and I think it’s going to do that.
We’re doing lottery style. For a long time it was a line up (I did it in Vancouver and San Fran) but quite frankly I don’t want to have people sitting outside the theatre in this heat! (Presentation House is air conditioned by the way!) so we’re doing lottery style… I just actually posted up all the info on our blog: http://rentinvancouver.wordpress.com.
I also read that with Fighting Chance Productions you wanted to give opportunities to actors, directors and such to try on different hats. Were you able to accomplish this with Rent?
Absolutely. I think very few of our actors have had the calibre of lead we’ve been able to give them in Rent. We’ve had the opportunity to bring on an assistant musical director whose never been involved in a show this big before, our assistant choreographer is a first timer to Fighting Chance… everyone’s been juggling multiple balls on this one.
Fighting Chance Productions presented another Jonathan Larson show earlier this year, Tick, tick … boom. What was that experience like and did it help with this production?
That experience was wonderful. I was really proud of the show, and I think it showed in most of our reviews. Jo Ledingham (Vancouver Courier) and I had a ten minute conversation after about how she felt the Jericho had never rocked that hard before. I loved working on that show. How did it help with this one? I guess it’s hard, because I knew a lot about Jon Larsen before working on either show, but what was interesting was to just see how similar the parallells between his life and mine were. My girlfriend actually choked up at one performance and told me after “it was just like watching you up there.” I don’t know if that was a compliment or not.
I read somewhere that you consider yourself an “organic” director, what did you mean by that?
I like to just get my actors to do what feels natural and then I’ll make it stage appropriate. I think casting is 80% of the process, and I think it’s where I generally excel. Therefore I think that I need to trust the cast I’m working with – and I always do. With musicals obviously there needs to be some choreography – but they know their characters better than I do. What I aim to do is give them what they need to make their portrayal as true as possible. Some actors want you to hold their hand, some want you to get the fuck out of the way and let them do their work. I try not to have an ego as a director — so I try to help them the best I can, while still keeping the “big picture” in mind.
Your company also presented The Laramie Project last year. Do you see Fighting Chance Productions delving more into other productions with a gay theme to them in the future?
I don’t know. Probably. I think I pick shows that I like. I didn’t do Laramie for the controversy – I’m not doing Rent for the controversy. They’re just great shows, and the community was very supportive of Laramie, and I’m hoping they’ll be supportive of Rent too (even if it means having to cross a bridge to get to the theatre.)
What can we expect next from Fighting Chance Productions?
Well we have our first full season of shows scheduled for next year. We’re doing a show at the Fringe (Dog Sees God, which has a gay theme), then a Canadian play, One Good Marriage, Forbidden Broadway – a musical spoof, Matt & Ben – which looks at how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck “found” the script for Good Will Hunting. Then we get silly with The Wedding Singer musical and finally next summer we’re doing Hair. I haven’t decided if we’re doing the nude scene or not. 🙂
4-23 August 2009 ((8pm Tues – Sat and 2pm Sat, 1:30 and 7pm on Sun)
Presentation House Theatre, 333 Chesterfield Ave, North Vancouver
Adults $30. Students/Seniors $25. Rush seats $15.
For more information visit http://rentinvancouver.wordpress.com