Friday, July 24, 2009

Greendale Community Theatre's RENT: The vlog

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Due to a mix-up involving Google Maps and a particularly bewildering #76 county bus route, I was unable to make opening night of Greendale Community Theatre's RENT. (There are very few venues in Milwaukee County I haven’t made it to yet. Greendale High School is one of them.)

I’d mentioned the GCT’s RENT in the preview column this week and I have to say . . . I’m far more interested in this production of the musical than I was in seeing the touring Broadway show. The touring Broadway affair was big and impersonal, featuring professional actors who were getting paid well to do what they did on the road. And though proffessional actors do what they do well, there's something kind of cold about the whole experience that is deeply at odds with RENT's admittedly flawed approach to its general themes and the spcificity of its early '90's milieu. The GCT has more heart and more genuine personality than the touring Broadway production . . . and I can honestly say this without having seen the show yet because I’ve had a chance to view the vlog.

A little background: During an exceedingly pleasant interview with actress Ruth Arnell, she and I had discussed her vldeo blogs. She expressed a desire to show people the entire process of working on a show from audition to rehearsal and so on. Video blogging, for her, was part of letting people in on that much more of what goes on to create a theatre experience. She and I agree (as I recall) that the more you make the promotion of a show about the people who perform in it, the more likely people are to want to see it. Theatre is an intrinsically social art form and the more promotion plays on that social connection, the more likely people are to want to see a show . .  .or words to that effect. I’m sure there are instances where this isn’t always the case. There are probably people in any cast who would turn people off to seeing a show that they’re in, but Arnell’s vlogs are always charming enough that this isn’t the case. The American Players Theatre has a really interesting blog with some really articulate actors writing for it. The vlogs for GCT’s Rent are similarly appealing.

The videos show a cast consisting largely of people (who are probably not much older than the musical itself) as they prepare for the show's opening. The videos are recorded and edited together by Robert Postotnik—the guy who plays the filmmaker Mark in the musical. The vlogs have a random, casual, wildly friendly quality about them that makes this musical a lot more appealing than it has a right to be. Postotnik and Stephanie Staszak (who plays Mimi) spend some time in front of the camera directly addressing the viewer with charming warmth, but there’s plenty of other bits here that show a cast with far more genuine personality than the musical they're appearing in. 


Here’s a sample of the last in the “Road to Rent” vlogs:



Okay: Honestly, I hate the musical. It’s awful. Really, really awful. Inspired by  Puccini's La Boeheme, much of what appears here has been tackled better elsewhere. Some of RENT's more idiosyncratic subject matter is covered far more intensely by Kushner's Angels In America (which premiered in '91--two years before RENT did.) The musical theatre format of Rent loses track of so much of the style of the early '90's milieu . . . the whole thing feels aggressively unctuous and artificial.  it just doesn’t work for me.

But the videos here put a local human face to the regional Wisconsin premiere production of the musical that makes it really, really appealing. The big guys with the big money in local theatre (you know who you are . . . and you’re probably not reading this) can learn something here: Video or not, actor's blogs are a part of the future of arts marketing. Actors put a human face on a production and that does wonders for a person’s desire to see a show. I’m actually disappointed that I missed last night’s performance of RENT. That’s a very strange feeling for me . . .

Greendale Community Theatre’s production of RENT runs July 23rd through August 1st at the Greendale High School Auditorium. Look for a review of the show here tomorrow. . .

Robert Postotnik as Mark

Stephanie Stasczak as Mimi

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