BWW Interview: Lencia Kebede of RENT at Aronoff Center For The Arts
The 20th anniversary tour of "RENT" is taking Cincinnati by storm as a part of the 2018-2019 Broadway in Cincinnati series. Jonathan Larson's famous rock opera is running now through Dec. 23 at the Aronoff Center.
I got to talk with Lencia Kebede (Joanne) about how she is making her mark on the character, putting her degree to good use, learning from her experience with Beyoncé and more in the interview below!
BWW: You are currently touring in one of the most iconic shows to hit Broadway. What has it been like getting to put your own stamp on this show, and more specifically on the character of Joanne?
LK: It has been a journey, to say the least. The most difficult yet rewarding part was discovering my own specific interpretation of such a well known character. Because I've known and loved "RENT" since I was young, it was very difficult at the beginning to feel that I was my own version of Joanne, per say. For a while, it felt that I was "putting on" what I knew Joanne to be as opposed to really experiencing and building her from the ground up in light of who I am as a person. But, I remember the exact performance when it all clicked and I felt like I was finally her. Little did I know at the time...I've always had parts of her and this show in me, but I needed to go through that process of discovery to develop a real and dynamic character based primarily on who I am. That's the best part about "RENT". Not only does it provide the actors the freedom to bring their own truth to the narrative, but it actually requires us to do so.
BWW: You have your BA in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College! That's awesome! How have your studies from your degree impacted your acting?
LK: My degree allows me to understand the greater political, sociological and or historical context of whatever material I am working on. Specifically with "RENT", I am able to use literature I've read even back in college on the AIDS epidemic, gentrification, and displacement to ground my character in the realities of living in the 90's in New York City-most importantly as Joanne, a homosexual woman of color.
BWW: Earlier this year you sang backup for Beyoncé in her rehearsals at Coachella. That must have been an incredible learning moment. What was one thing that you took with you from that experience?
LK: Besides studying every small thing she did of course, the biggest lesson I learned from working for Beyoncé was how important it is to be aware of yourself and your surroundings when entering a new environment. Because I do a lot of work in popular music as well as musical theater, I've learned the specific nuances and differences it takes to be successful in either setting. Upon walking into our first rehearsal for Beyoncé, the whole energy and vibe were of course very different than any musical theater rehearsal. I had to adapt quickly to learning music in a different way as well as singing and performing with a different style and energy. Overall, I grew in my adaptability skills through my ability to survey a room and integrate into the culture in a very short amount of time.
BWW: In addition to Beyoncé, you've done a handful of other great work. You've led regional productions, such as: Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" and Deloris Van Cartier in "Sister Act"; as well as working for Disney in Tokyo Disneyland. How has touring with "RENT" differed from these previous experiences?
LK: First and foremost, "RENT" has differed in its vocal, physical, and emotional demand. Our schedule in itself requires a whole new level of focus, self-awareness and endurance that is very unique to tour life. Eight show weeks and traveling around the US and Asia is no joke! However, I do feel that working at Tokyo Disneyland the year before I started "RENT" was useful because it required me to get used to the strenuous nature of performing the same material every day-my contract at Tokyo Disney was for seven months and we had five or six 30 min shows a day. Nonetheless, "RENT" is the most vocally and emotionally challenging show I've ever done, not to mention this is the first time I've been on a international tour. So, ultimately, this show has pushed me farther than ever, and I'm so grateful for that.
BWW: Here's a cheesy question... but preparing for this interview, I was jamming to the OBC cast recording, and I have to ask... how do you measure a year in the life? ;)
LK: I like to measure a year of my life with documenting my own personal growth and positive experiences. It's so easy to focus on the negative aspects of our lives, but overall, when I look back on the last year of my life, I notice so many changes in my own spirit and my own understanding of myself and the world around me. So here's your cheesy answer: I'd have to say... I like to measure a year of my life in love :)
BWW: Lastly, what's one thing you hope audiences take away from seeing "RENT"?
LK: I hope the audiences leave the show feeling an overwhelming sense of empowerment in their own abilities to manifest what they want in their lives. To me, "RENT" is about perspective. We have this group of eclectic individuals who, as the story goes on, experience various obstacles, yet process and recover from those obstacles in specific ways. That recovery process speaks to the power of perspective-the world will continue to act upon us in many ways, but we still have the power as individuals to learn and grow from those experiences in a positive way. Additionally, we have the most iconic song from the show, 'Seasons of Love', which challenges us by asking how we choose to remember our lives. Do the positive or the negative experiences hold more weight? And, if it is the negative, how can we change our perspectives to acknowledge our own resilience and to be grateful for the challenges in our lives that have built our character. I hope the audiences leave our show feeling that level of strength in their hearts.
Don't push it off "another day" and order your tickets to "RENT" now by calling the Aronoff Box Office at 513-621-2787 or purchasing them online. "RENT" will also offer $25 front side orchestra seats the day of the performance starting two hours prior.