It’s been 15 years since the original Canadian production of RENT took Toronto by storm, and some of the original cast members are returning for a one night only benefit concert to raise money for Fife House this coming Monday, October 29th. Chad Richardson, Cary Shields, Jenifer Aubrey, Gavin Hope, Dominique Roy , Karen LeBlanc and Thom Allison will join cast members from Sheridan College’s production of RENT to perform in a special concert honouring Jonathan Larson’s work.
Throughout the week BWW will be speaking with members of the original cast about their experience with RENT and what the show meant to them. Today we're speaking with Thom Allison, who just came off a very successful season at The Shaw Festival and is currently a judge on CBC's Over the Rainbow, helping Canada choose a Dorothy for Mirvish's The Wizard of Oz. Thom was a swing in the original Canadian production of RENT, and talks to us about how the message has shaped his life, how it changes over the years and how it applies to the young girls vying for the role of Dorothy:
Congratulations on the 15th Anniversary of the Canadian cast of RENT! Have you stayed in touch with many of your former castmates?
I've stayed in touch with a handful but life take different paths. You don't always keep up. Some I've worked with again, like Gavin Hope, Charles Azulay and Jeremy Kushnier.
What was the biggest thing that RENT taught you?
RENT taught me that you can't let someone else tell you what kind of experience you should be having on a project. You have to feel how you feel and honour that. It's the only way to have an experience that is authentic and walk away with all the lessons.
Have you seen the show in various incarnations over the years?
I haven't seen it again but I did the show again in Winnipeg and played Tom Collins. I was a little nervous about how I'd feel about it. Jeremy Kushnier directed it and we had a wonderful time revisiting it. The messages of nuclear family and living each day like it's your last sat much deeper and more tactile for me. It was a cast of young actor/singers from Winnipeg who loved the show and what it had to say and their joy and abandon was invigorating and exciting. We had a wonderful time.
When performing in a benefit like this with a new generation of young performers, what one piece of advice would you like to give them? Is it a piece of advice you would have given yourself?
I would tell them to filter the messages of the show through the health information we have now. It's a show that seems like it's encouraging young people to live hard and that is not really the message. I encourage young performers to see the message to live free of fear, full of love, and filled with hope. I would definitely give myself the same advice. I give it to myself now on daily basis.
Did being in RENT change your outlook on love, life and loss? Do you try and live Jonathan's message in your day to day life?
I think RENT is really a young person's show in terms of how it presents it's messages. It speaks to the invincibility of young, the rock and roll attitude of living life fully, the glamourized version of low-income living. I think I've come to Jonathan's message of "NO DAY BUT TODAY" more as I've gotten older. But it translates differently, I understand it on a different level. It becomes, "Be free to be who you are in your entirety. Don't be lesser to make someone feel bigger. Only by being your full self in your most joyful version will you find your true place in the world. Feel fear but leap forward anyway....and reap the rewards." And "We love and lose people on the way, but we have to take the love they gave us and pay it forward."