“Rent,” a musical that defined musical theatre for a generation, and brought names like Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp to greater public awareness, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new national tour! Katie LaMark is one of the new generation of this shows cast as they travel the country on the tour. Playing Maureen, Katie gets to being this outrageous activist and performance artist to life performing in this revival, from January 10th – 15th at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Since this is a revival and an anniversary tour, the first thing that comes to mind is how old were you and how did you first become aware to RENT?
I was in the tenth grade when the movie came out and after an outing with all my drama club friends to the movies, I couldn’t stop listening to the soundtrack and became a big fan. I, of course, wish I had been able to see the show in New York since the experience is so different, but the movie made it accessible to younger kids like me who didn’t grow up near the city. We’re finding that a lot of people who come out to see the tour have a similar first experience with RENT.
Maureen is a dynamic and vibrant character, but she can be a bit combative at times as well. What do you find the most interesting about playing this character?
I love playing Maureen because female roles in Musical Theater just aren’t written like this. She’s a creative self starter and her successes are not marked by male approval. She engages in a complex relationship where both partners advocate for themselves equally which I think makes the song “Take Me or Leave Me” such an exciting moment in the show. Most females in musicals struggle with changing their identity for others or act as secondary characters in a man’s hero journey. Maureen does not! She doesn’t compromise her values and she believes firmly that she can change the world around her. It’s a really satisfying experience to play her because I feel close to her and her causes.
Maureen can be a bit outrageous – what is your favorite line or movement that you get to say or do as her each performance?
Asking the audience to moo with me is a big leap of faith (eh? Get it?). You never know what will happen. Will they? Won’t they? Mostly they do and they do it big. In a show that invites audiences to witness, it’s a rare moment where we ask them to participate and Maureen’s performance piece speaks to them directly. It’s completely exhilarating.
What do you think is going to surprise people about this show?
People will be surprised to feel the new energy of our cast. We are a young group and many of us consider RENT20 to be the first big gig of our careers. I certainly feel that way. We are stepping into the shoes of characters who people really know and have formed a deep love for over the last 20 years. We also step into roles played famously by some unbelievable actors who found their first successes with this show, too. We have the unique opportunity to honor the originals while being encouraged to bring ourselves to the show. I think audiences will still feel the familiarity of the story with some exciting influences of a truly unique set of new actors. We have fun and we take risks.
Since this is the 20th Anniversary tour of this show, being performed by actors from a new generation, and in a world where people may not be as familiar with this face of the AIDS crisis or this grittier side of NYC, why do you think this show still has impact? How do you feel it is relatable to people currently?
I think the show will always relate to its audiences for several reasons. Firstly, it does an excellent job illustrating the tragedy of the epidemic as we see its effects ripple through a group of friends and loved ones. The show has a remarkable capacity to educate. Secondly, while AIDS is not the immediate threat it once was, the world is sadly not unfamiliar with the feelings that accompany sudden loss of life. Today’s audience knows the shock and horror that accompanies news of a mass shooting or bomb threat. What makes RENT important is that it shows us the many stages of loss within a family unit and community. It reminds us that the only way to live fully is to embrace each day, to choose love and acceptance over fear and anger. We hear these messages regularly: “no day but today” “forget regret or life is yours to miss”. But they mean something much deeper when we see these characters confront their demons directly. Sometimes they don’t do so well. Sometimes they don’t take their own advice. But we root for them and we identify with the struggle.
What is your favorite moment in the show? Doesn’t have to be one you are in!
“I’ll Cover You” is one of the greatest love songs ever written. I am brought to tears every time I get to see it performed or hear it sung, especially by our Angel and Collins (David Merino and Aaron Harrington). They are incredible and embody the song’s message expertly. In a single song, we are given the beacon of hope. It’s the purest and most fearless confession of feeling in the entire musical. It’s what every character is fighting for: shelter, happiness, and the unconditional exchange of love. It’s what makes an entire audience mourn when we lose Angel in the second act and hear it reprised. You can feel the temperature in the room change as soon as the song starts and it’s impossible not to feel the joy the pair radiates.
Katie is a woman of many talents, a fact of which is abundantly clear on her special talents portion of her resume. She can do everything from “A wicked good Boston accent,” Chicken Clucking,” and “Bernadette and Patti impressions.” But there was one that caught my eye that I’ve not yet seen on resumes, her resume lists “cleaning fairy” under special skills, so I have to ask- what is that?
Nothing makes me happier than sweeping and doing dishes. I love cleaning, especially at night when I can’t sleep. My friends and family call me the cleaning fairy because everything in the house is suddenly clean overnight as if by magic. “The cleaning fairy has struck”. When I was working late nights as a waitress when I first moved to the city, I kept missing my roommates to odd hours. They affectionately referred to me as “the maid who pays rent”.
Check out the Katie and the rest of the cast of the 20th anniversary tour of “Rent” from January 10th – 15th at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For tickets and show information go to www.Broadwaysd.com