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Take ‘em or leave ‘em: getting to know the cast of Rent at the Stratford Festival

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/By / Sep 8, 2023
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Rent is an ensemble show through and through. 

Many of the rock opera’s iconic moments are group scenes: from a Bohemian bash at the Life Cafe, to a chaotic Christmas Eve snowfall over the streets of New York, to a chrous of singers measuring love.

The Stratford Festival is ensemble-driven, too, with an acting company over 100 strong. 

So it’s no surprise director Thom Allison was able to put together a stacked cast for the festival’s current production of Rent.

Over email, Intermission asked a few of them about their busy lives and careers. Here are their answers, edited for length and clarity.


Photo by David Hou.

Robert Markus (Mark)

What’s your favourite musical? 

It varies. At the moment, I’m re-listening to The Light in the Piazza by Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel. The original Broadway cast recording is wildly phenomenal.

What’s your dream role? 

Two parts come to mind. I would love to play Bobby in Company — something about playing a character that’s roughly my age appeals to me. The second would be George from Sunday in the Park with George. I guess Sondheim is a trend for me?

And your favourite past role?

Riff Raff in Stratford’s production of The Rocky Horror Show. The show was this perfect storm: great timing; an incredible cast; a stellar production team; a generous, passionate director; and audiences that wanted to have a great time. Plus, I got to sing “Time Warp” every night — it doesn’t get much better than that.


Photo by David Hou.

Andrea Macasaet (Mimi)

What music do you listen to as you get ready for the show? 

I listen to a lot of pop in my dressing room, from the ‘80s to present day!

What’s your dream role?

Elle Woods.

What’s something that’s guided you through your career? 

The most important thing I try to tell myself is that whatever’s for me won’t miss me. The rejection side of the entertainment industry is rough, so I try to care for myself as much as I can — mostly by spending time with the people and things that bring me joy.


Photo by David Hou.

Kolton Stewart (Roger)

Favourite past role?

One of my favourites was Young Simba in a tour of The Lion King. To be part of such an iconic musical, singing “Hakuna Matata” in massive theatres across North America, is a memory I’ll always cherish. 

Favourite musical? 

West Side Story. I did it at Stratford when I was nine and it was a really special production; the cast was sublime. I think the show’s music and story are so stunning and beautiful.

What music do you listen to as you get ready for the show?

It depends on the day. Some days I don’t listen to any music, and get ready in silence; I find for my role, starting off the show a little isolated and uncomfortable is helpful. Other days, if I feel like I need a boost, I listen to chill acoustic music. 


Photo by David Hou.

Lee Siegel (Collins)

How familiar were you with Rent before this production? What’s your first memory of it?

I was a teenager watching the Tony Awards and this young group of performers was wailing away at some song called “La Vie Bohème.” I was glued to my screen. My parents took me to the media store a few days later and bought me the double disc CD. The minute Jesse L. Martin opened his mouth on that album, I wanted to play Tom Collins. And here we are: nearly 30 years later, I get the chance. 

Favourite musical? 

Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ve done the show five times and would do it 25 more. The score just hits my soul, I love it inside and out. Rent is another one: such an important message to deliver to the world, and such great tunes. And Miss Saigon — love that story and score.

What music do you listen to as you get ready for the show?

Every day it’s something different. I have an ‘80s gay dance playlist that helps me get into character, but I also break off into the Great American Songbook, ‘70s rock, and Motown. I try not to listen to contemporary music — instead, I choose songs my character would’ve been inspired by.


Photo by David Hou.

Nestor Lozano Jr. (Angel)

Favourite past role?

Miss Understanding in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at Stage West Calgary was my introduction to infusing my theatre and drag artistries together. It was the first show where I had to slap on pounds of makeup in a matter of minutes, so it gave me a good glimpse at what to expect for this role.

What’s your dream role?

Believe it or not, being an Angel wasn’t always part of the plan. I’ve always wanted to play a villain — Ursula in The Little Mermaid in full drag would be a dream.

How familiar were you with Rent before this production? What’s your first memory of it?

I was introduced to Rent when I did it back in high school, playing Benny. I’ve been a ‘Rent-head’ ever since. Revisiting this show now and playing the iconic role of Angel has been a complete honour — there are messages in it that I understand on a deeper level now that I’m older.


Photo by David Hou.

Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane (Joanne)

Favourite past role?

The Emcee in Cabaret at the Grand Theatre. It’s a role usually played by men, so having the chance to do it as a queer woman of colour felt important. It was a very special production, with immersive staging in an intimate studio theatre. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

How familiar were you with Rent before this production? What’s your first memory of it?

I was very familiar. In high school, my best friend and I watched it for the first time on a rented DVD. When we finished it, we were both crying — but then we immediately went back and re-watched our favorite scenes. We spent the next few weeks singing it to each other over and over.

What’s something that’s guided you through your career? 

The best lesson I’ve learned is to stop worrying about being “worthy” because we are always enough. I’ve experienced being the youngest person in a rehearsal room, the only woman, the only person of colour; at times, I found it daunting and intimidating. But I’ve realized that no matter your level of experience, there’s always more to learn: nobody knows everything. 

Casts come together with the same longing to create great theatre. The fact that you’re in a rehearsal room, bringing your life experience to a project — it’s not only enough, but a beautiful contribution. Although I still get nervous at times, I try to remind myself: bravery isn’t absence of fear, but triumph over it.


Rent plays at the Stratford Festival until October 28. Tickets are available here.

Liam Donovan
WRITTEN BY

Liam Donovan

Liam is Intermission’s publishing and editorial assistant. Based in Toronto, his writing has appeared in Maisonneuve, This Magazine, NEXT Magazine, and more. He loves the original Super Mario game very much.

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