Hold That 'C' and Dance In Platforms? I Saw You At the 'Rent' Auditions
Saturday, March 19, 2011
The line of would-be Mimis and strung-out Angels snaked down 49th Street and turned up 9th Avenue during the open casting call for the Off Broadway revival of the musical "Rent" on Friday.
"People have been camping since last night, and it'll go until probably five or six tonight," said Christian Castro, a production assistant working Friday's audition. "Everyone will get seen. Everyone."
Nearly 2,000 people lined up outside the New World Stages theater to try out to be on the entirely new cast of "Rent." The Tony award winning musical about young East Village artists had a 12-year Broadway run before it closed in 2008. The revival of "Rent" Off Broadway is scheduled to open this summer. The show has a $1.5 million dollar budget to set up a fresh Alphabet City bohemia at the New World Stages theater.
On Friday, the hopefuls got lucky with a warm, temperate day to wait out the long line into the New World Stages complex, where they would be received in groups of ten at a time, and then shuffled into one of four rooms to sing 16 bars of a rock or pop song.
Castro estimated about five percent would make it into a room labeled Studio D for the final call. There, the mezzo-sopranos and bass baritones alike were made to stand, one by one, before John Corker, the production's original general manager, and producers Kevin McCollum and Allen Gorden.
Bethany Knox of Telsey Casting managed the stream of talent.
"Thank you, thank you so much," Knox said to a young man, interrupting his brief delivery of Justin Bieber's "Baby." The man gathered his folder of music and left the studio.
"How we looking outside?" Knox turned around to ask Brendan Hahn, an assistant to Gorden. "I was just there," Hahn said. "It was at least to 9th Avenue."
"We're at a rate of 150 an hour," Knox said. "And people can't come after two. The line gets cut off then, right?"
"Right," Hahn said.
Another singer walked into the room and began to sing a slow, mournful ballad.
Knox interrupted the young man, saying: "Do you have any pop? Like the kind of thing you would hear on the radio?"
"Oh," the singer said. "Oh, Jesus."
"Well, what did you sing in the first round?" Knox asked.
"Uh, that was 'At Last.' And then 'Sweet Child of Mine,'" the singer said.
"That'll be great," Knox said. "I'll just stop you."
The young man cut straight into the Guns N' Roses classic.
"That's, that's great," Knox halted him. "Thanks for coming in, thank you. Good to hear you."
Outside the studio, the line streamed and forked into various rooms as would-be cast members were rapidly eliminated.
Elizabeth Stone, who identified herself as a "mostly natural" redhead from Orlando, Florida, said she graduated from Penn State in a month: "I'm moving to New York to get into Broadway and tours and cruise ships."
Stone traveled to the Midtown Manhattan auditions from Pennsylvania. "I took Megabus. I mean, at $10 bucks a pop there's not a better way," she said.
Outside in the line, 24-year-old Bronx resident Franceli Chapman stood with her friends Katya Collazo of Queens and Laine Bonstein of Brooklyn.
"As I woman, I want to play Mimi," Chapman said. "It's very liberating to be powerful in your sexuality, to live with no regrets. In our society, when women are powerful, they're looked at as cheap. The cast in 'Rent' live these powerful lives on their own terms."
"And some of the issues in 'Rent' are still here," the 23-year-old Collazo said. "AIDS is still here, interracial relationships are still looked down on."
"But in the end," Bonstein, who is 27, chimed in, "it's all about these people coming to terms with themselves."
The threesome devolved into talk of preparations for their respective fifteen seconds before the casting directors and producers.
"I went to sleep in a big hairnet with all these rollers on my head and it was so hard to sleep," said Chapman. "But I made do. I fell asleep."
Further back in the line, Tiffany Williams stood with Kristen Keim.
"I have friends close to me here in New York that are HIV positive," said Keim, a 22 year old from Brooklyn. "That doesn't affect the way I look at them, but it's still prevalent in today's society."
"A lot of people feel that AIDS is taboo," Williams, 23, said. "But AIDS is still around, especially in America."
The line advanced a few feet and the women moved up, turning into the entrance of One Worldwide Plaza. They were still about three hours from auditioning.
"Until we find a cure for AIDS, it's not going away," Keim continued. "I find 'Rent' a thrilling piece to work on, just to be a part of that movement and that we bring this issue to life, as long as there's no cure for it."
Several of the themes in "Rent" resonated with the last person in line for Friday's auditions, Alena Williams, who was prepared to sing Erica Badu's "Call Tyrone."
"Actually, my father passed away from AIDS," Williams said. "So it's not unknown to me. It's not a secret. When we found it, it was real. It became real."
By 1:30 P.M., the line was considerably shorter, stretching only the length of the 49th street block between 8th and 9th Avenues.
Sadah Proctor took Williams' spot as the last person in line. The 20-year-old from Long Island stood working a pink Blackberry.
"I looked on Twitter about this," she said. "And found 'Rent Auditions' as a trending topic." Proctor craned her neck to survey the line of more than 1,000 people in front of her. "I thought, okay, I'm on Spring Break, I'm home, I have time. Let's see what happens."