Chat Alumni Reunite to Stage Production of Rent

Canadian Jewish News logo-2014-300x116I’m 24 years old and it’s my first day at TanenbaumCHAT. No, I’m not a former student who’s back for a reunion. Instead, I’m here to rehearse Rent, A107 Production’s inaugural show.

Like many of my current cast and fellow ensemble members, I’d been searching for an opportunity to get back onstage. I also wanted to meet new, like-minded young people – a difficult post-grad task. But most community theatre troupes in Toronto are filled with children, and they don’t cater to the schedules of busy 20-somethings.

“This is something that is specifically geared to young adults. And that’s probably an element of the community theatre market that hasn’t necessarily been tapped,” says director Josh Sable. He’s also a drama teacher and the director of student activities at CHAT.

For him, this process has been dually exciting. Not only is he launching a new community theatre initiative for Jewish young adults in Toronto, but he’s also working with a group of his former students – about half of Rent’s cast and crew members are CHAT graduates.

While some are carving out careers in the performing arts, many of us have rather unrelated 9-to-5 jobs.

“These are people who all have full-time jobs,” says producer Danny Richmond. We’re a group filled with lawyers, teachers and marketing professionals. But at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights those more sterile identities melt away as we belt out Seasons of Love and La Vie Boheme.

Russell Citron, left, and Ryan Peters SAMANTHA APRIL PHOTO
Russell Citron, left, and Ryan Peters SAMANTHA APRIL PHOTO

Like many theatre nerds, I discovered these songs as a tween. After all, Rent came out in 1996, but the movie version hit theatres in 2005 – that’s when my Rent obsession really exploded.

And clearly I wasn’t the only die-hard Rent-head excited about this performance. Our two-night run, April 18 and 19, at the York Woods Library Theatre sold out in less than six days. We’ve now added another show on Sunday, April 17.

Along with Rent’s popularity, it has clear Jewish roots, making it an appropriate choice for this CHAT-alumni-and-friends production – it’s also a show the high school probably never would have touched.

The late Jonathan Larson’s semi-autobiographical rock opera follows a group of Bohemians through New York City’s East Village as narrator Mark Cohen (played by Ryan Peters) watches his friends Roger (Mitch Freed), Mimi (Lauren Mandel), Maureen (Bryna Weiss), Joanne (Hayley Goldenberg), Collins (Jonathan Eidelman), Angel (David Cohen-Olivenstein) and Benny (Russell Citron) struggle with issues relating to love, heroin addiction and HIV/AIDS.

While the musical is set squarely in the late 1990s, the iconic piece still resonates today as it begs audiences to seize the day and to do their part to repair the world. So too does this production, as proceeds from all tickets sales will go directly towards Ve’ahavta, a charity that bills itself as a Jewish humanitarian response to poverty.

Richmond, who is Ve’ahavta’s director of community engagement, sees parallels between his organization and the musical. “The show talks about, ‘will I lose my dignity?’” he says. “It’s that powerful question that we all wrestle with. And for Ve’ahavta, we work to help promote the dignity of others.”

So far, it’s unclear whether A107 will mount another show. When I ask Sable about it, he remains mum and instead chooses to quote Rent. “No day but today.”

Lauren Mandel and Mitch Freed SAMANTHA APRIL PHOTOLauren Mandel and Mitch Freed SAMANTHA APRIL PHOTO

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