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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 17, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 07
Twenty years of RENT:

An interview with Skyler Volpe
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Twenty years of RENT:

An interview with Skyler Volpe

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

RENT - 20TH ANNIVERSARY
BROADWAY ACROSS AMERICA
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
February 21-26


The musical RENT reached its 20th year anniversary mark this year. To celebrate the milestone a new national tour has been launched, and will be playing at Seattle's Paramount Theatre next week. The Seattle Gay News caught up with Skyler Volpe, who plays the pivotal role of Mimi Marquez, to discuss how the show has progressed and insights to the performance.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer? Skyler

Volpe: I guess it would have to be all of my theatre/dance teachers when I was young. I started dancing when I was three years old, and many of my teachers were performers themselves. They inspired me. I loved performing in the end-of-year recitals. I remember always looking up to my teachers and thinking, 'If they can do it, so can I.'

Andrews-Katz: What was the show that gave you the theatre bug?

Volpe: When I think about it, it actually might be RENT. I started listening to the music when I was young. It was on Broadway when I was five years old, and my mom loved it. She played it in the car all the time. That was the first show that I knew all the lyrics to all the songs. I knew then that I wanted to do that. My mom says that one day I was in the back of the car, singing along with the CD, and she noticed that I was singing along with the curses from the Bag Lady in the 'Christmas Bells Are Ringing' section. It was then she realized 'maybe this isn't the best choice to play around younger children.'

Andrews-Katz: Tell us about your band, Greasy Slax.

Volpe: Thank you for asking about that. My roommate, our best friend and myself started the band in college. We all loved old American songs (folk songs and spiritual songs) and started covering them. They are such beautiful music and are slowly disappearing over the years. I remember hearing a cover band do some of the music years ago and thought, 'If they can do it, so can I.' In fact, that has been the driving force in my life; if I see someone doing something I admire, I try to do it for myself

Andrews-Katz: Your resume says you have puppetry training. How has that played a part in your career?

Volpe: About two years ago it came into use. I was playing a parrot in a pirate musical. I was puppeteering this big, beautiful parrot for this company in New York. It was a gorgeous puppet that lit up from the inside, and had an animated head. I worked closely with them to learn how to handle the puppet and make it rap. I was a rapping parrot puppet in a pirate musical.

Andrews-Katz: What are the biggest challenges when playing Mimi in RENT?

Volpe: It changes all the time. I think the hardest thing, consistently, has been the physicality of the role. Mimi is this fiercely vivacious girl, even though she is sick and dying. This goes on throughout the entire show. It was hard for me to figure out how to make that come across visually, consistently throughout. She has these two polar opposites, and is going from one extreme to the other. Somehow I had to find a way to a happy medium. Once that was found, I had to maintain it.

Andrews-Katz: As this is the 20th Anniversary for RENT, how is the show still relevant?

Volpe: I think it is still relevant in many ways, especially now. The story of RENT has these characters living in a kind of harrowing circumstances, but ultimately they are trying to live generously as much as they can. It is because of that they create this supportive family that is so welcoming, making them all feel safe even though the world around them isn't. It is something we can still identify with now, and adds to the timelessness in RENT; finding a family, whether born into or built as you go, it is important that they make you feel safe so that you can deal with the world.

Andrews-Katz: After 20 years, is the show obsolete?

Volpe: I don't know if it really is obsolete. I guess, since it is set in the early/mid '90s, because they talk about screening calls through the answering machine - we don't do that now; we get a picture of who the caller is instead. There are a lot of tiny references that don't apply anymore. I think the show is still relevant though. Since most of us were so young when RENT first came out, we did a lot of research, as a Company, on the subject. We watched stuff on our own as well, but we watched documentaries on the AIDS epidemic. Our director was a young man in New York at the time RENT takes place, and he spoke to us about his own experiences and observations at the time. We heard the stories and we did our research.

Andrews-Katz: What happens to Mimi after the show ends?

Volpe: We talked about that in rehearsals. In all realistic possibilities, she dies. In her situation, you don't get magically better. Mimi maybe has about ten minutes or so more to live once the curtain comes down. In the original source, La Boheme, Mimi dies. End of story. The author of RENT (Jonathan Larsen) made the conscious decision to have the curtain close while Mimi is still alive. He wanted to end the musical with a note of hope; that there is something better. If you live your life generously, it will have meaning.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of all limitations - what would it be and why?

Volpe: That is such a hard question. I think if I had to choose right now, I would love to play the Lafayette or the Jefferson roles in Hamilton. That would be so fun.

RENT opened on Broadway in April 1996 and continued through September 2008. Sweeping the Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical, it also won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996.

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Twenty years of RENT:

An interview with Skyler Volpe

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