Dazzling spectacles of colour and light, live musical entertainment paired with incredible voices, and well-executed costumes on actors dealing elegantly with heavy themes and subject matter: all theatrical elements and delights of Collective Theatrics’ RENT. Any assumption that amateur or community theatre is of a lesser quality than professional theater has to be thrown out with this cast, who perform at a professional calibre while simultaneously working 9 to 5 jobs in-between rehearsals.
Uniquely, the piece begins with the actors on stage while the audience enters the house. This stylistic choice gives the appearance of a mingling bohemian society of misfits on stage, where they remain until the beginning of the show. Refreshingly, the characters aren’t stuck in one conversation while they are on stage. Rather the characters are in flux and shift around the stage, some even entering and leaving multiple times, until Mark Cohen—the show’s leading character—begins the show.
Mark is the main narrator of the piece, addressing the audience throughout the show to give context in different scenes. This aspect of his character blends perfectly with his role in the show, as his character is a videographer and sort of documentarian—quite literally a form of artistic narrator.
The show is set around the Christmas holidays, which cleverly emphasizes the importance of friendship and care at this time, but also highlights the difficulties this time of year poses for those in poverty. However, the cast deals with these complex themes in a manner that would seem to be reserved for professional theatre, and with the emotional and theatrical awareness of seasoned veterans.
What must be remarked is the quality of the costumes and set design of the production, as along with the quality of the acting, it surpasses any notion of “amateur” work. The costumes provide a vibrancy and mixture to the show that emphasizes those concepts throughout the piece: each character’s clothes are different, maybe very particular and unusual, but not negative of incorrect in any way. The set, as well, is comprised of scaffolding and brightly painted drapery, the vibrancy and rough-and-ready look matching the style of the characters. Furthermore, the set design is extremely versatile, ready to shift a dingy New York high-rise apartment to the homeless quarter of impoverished New York.
The quality of the acting cannot be emphasized enough, and it is quite easy to notice that certain cast members have had professional experience on stage. While it is true that the acting ability and engagement of the cast falters occasionally when actors with less experience are in the spotlight, it is usually accompanied by comedic aspects that suit the moment and dialogue. Even so, seeing someone without much acting experience on stage is encouraging to other community members who wish to join the next production.
The energy of the cast is impeccable, and such commitment is phenomenal for a voluntary crew of artists. Each scene transition is pushed along by this energy, as the action on stage flows smoothly and without fail; a trademark of amateur theatre is to drag in these quieter moments, but this is a common trope that RENT avoids. As well, the incredible live music performed in tandem with the powerful voices of the cast—which has a wide range of talented singers—helps drive the show to be the amazing spectacle it is.
It must be noted that all of this impressive theatre and volunteer talent is happening amid very heavy themes and serious subject matter, ranging from death, sex, disease, heartbreak, failed aspirations, and the LGBTQ+ community. The characters carry on with their impressive performances and trudge through these topics, without slowing down or missing a beat.
Typically, it’s not hard to pick out the faults in amateur a community theatre, but Collective Theatrics’ RENT is a glaring exception. Anyone who appreciates the merits of community theatre and volunteer groups—or just appreciates a good show—should definitely check out the company’s next production.