Northampton Press

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

On the road to stage the ‘Rent’: Actress creates her own persona

Friday, October 28, 2016 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

She’s only been out of college for three years, but Katie LaMark already has a starring role in the 20th anniversary of the award-winning rock musical “Rent,” now on a national tour and playing one night only, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1, State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton.

“Rent,” written and composed by Jonathan Larson, is loosely based on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme.” In the ground-breaking musical, which received a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award, seven struggling artists fight to follow their dreams while facing the fear of AIDS. Larson saw his title as having two meanings: payment and being torn apart.

LaMark is cast as the complex, bisexual character Maureen Johnson, a writer and performer described as being outspoken, sassy and flirtatious, and having trouble being faithful in her relationships. She credits getting the role to three things: “general interest, background and excellent training.”

The daughter of two musicians says, “I grew up with parents who gave me a lot of insights.” Beyond that, she says Syracuse University, where in 2013 she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater, “gave me everything I needed to do a part like this.”

It also didn’t hurt at the cattle call that she had already sung and acted in a regional theater production of “Rent” at Syracuse Stage.

Calling the role of Maureen “iconic,” and discussing her own approach to the character, LaMark says, “I think the role needs to have a person who isn’t afraid and doesn’t try to copy others. I made it entirely my own.”

While she says she has watched and enjoyed other actresses playing Maureen, she adds, “I knew what was going to work for me was starting fresh.” That meant taking a different approach. “I came at it from a comedic angle. Having the audience feel comfortable laughing with her and at her helps us like her.”

“Rent” is LaMark’s second back-to-back touring production. In 2015, she performed in “50 Shades! The Musical Parody.”

The “Rent” tour was launched in September and continues through next June. “We will have done the show [‘Rent’] 269 times by the end,” LaMark says.

How do she and the cast members survive the grueling schedule of moving from city to city and state to state every day or two? “We as a cast and crew have developed a very good work environment. We are happy to come to work every day.”

She calls doing a show like “Rent” therapeutic. “It feels good no matter what challenges life presents. The message of the show is about showing love and finding strength.”

When asked about the relevance of the musical today, particularly in regards to AIDS, which was a fearful epidemic when the show first opened in 1996, LaMark acknowledges that treatment and prevention has come a long way, but AIDS is still an issue. “The show is a celebration of knowing how far we’ve come, remembering how much more we can do. The message is about showing love and finding strength.”

LaMark says that in digging into the text of “Rent,” her biggest discovery was that no matter what a person’s gender, sexual orientation, race or religion, everyone’s challenges are the same.

“The central challenge [in ‘Rent’] is leaving your mark on a world that is trying to eliminate you. Every character in ‘Rent’ faces that challenge.”

Tickets: State Theatre Box Office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org, 1-800-999-STATE