BWW Interview: Joshua Tavares of RENT on Tour
Joshua Tavares plays Angel in the 20th Anniversary RENT National Tour, coming to DPAC January 28 to February 2. RENT is a story of love, tolerance, and hope that follows seven artists in New York City at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The musical, with book and music by Jonathan Larson, has been beloved since it first opened on Broadway in 1996. Tavares is originally from Hawaii and attended school at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and AMDA NY. This is his first national tour.
How did you first become interested in theatre?
I did theatre in high school for fun and my drama club went to New York for a trip and we got to see a bunch of Broadway shows. That was my first time being exposed to professional theatre. When I saw the shows, I was like "Woah, I need to do that. How do I get involved in doing this as a career?"
You studied at the University of Hawaii and AMDA NY. What did you gain from that training?
I gained a foundation as a storyteller and an actor. I learned all of the different techniques, like how to project in a theatre and how to dissect a song from an acting standpoint. I learned all of the different dance styles: musical theatre, jazz, tap, ballet. I got trained in everything between the two schools. I really got my entire foundation as a musical theatre actor in the techniques that are required to become a triple threat.
What's it like being on a national tour for the first time?
It's so much fun. I'm having the best time ever. I get to travel all around and see all the different places that I probably would never go to on my own. And I get to do something that I love! Especially with a role that's so iconic and well-known and beautiful and challenging, it's just like a dream come true being able to do this tour.
What are some of your favorite places that
you've gotten to visit on the tour?
We went to Hawaii, so that was obviously at the top of my list. When I found out we were going there when I got the offer for the role, I literally screamed out loud. And I'm not like a scream-out-loud kind of guy! But I was so excited that we were going to my home state. It still feels very fresh to me because we did that at Christmas, so not too long ago.
My whole family and all my friends got to see the show. People from throughout my life who I haven't seen in a very long time got to come and see it. It felt like a super special gift and I'm so grateful for that opportunity. So that's at the top obviously.
I also loved Vancouver in Canada. That was really fun. I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed it there. It just has a really cool energy and the people were so nice. We went to a bunch of different Canadian provinces and it was really cool to get to experience that.
We're in Ohio now and it's cold, so I don't know if I'm loving the weather. But the people are so nice here! We've been to so many places, I joke that I never know where we're going until the day of.
So let's talk about RENT. Can you tell us what it's about for anyone who might not know?
RENT follows a bunch of young artists living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which happened around the late 1980s and early 1990s. They're trying to discover who they are and what they want with their lives.
All of them are affected by the disease in one way or another, whether they have it or someone they love has it. It really sheds a light on that disease that wiped out so many people. It takes place during a time when nobody was really talking about it. In that way, the musical is very much a period piece. It takes place in a specific time and it's about a specific disease and there's a different reality now.
At the core, the story is really about kindness and generosity. It's about understanding that people may be different from you, but everyone still deserves love and respect. Those are the core messages of the show and to live every day like it's your last. "No day but today!"
Those messages never go out of style. That's why I think the show still resonates with so many people. Twenty plus years after its debut on Broadway, people are still coming back and bringing their kids. So many generations are still carrying this story with them -- because it's about love.
Many people know and love RENT. Were you familiar with it before you were cast?
I was. Just going and studying musical theatre and really immersing myself in the world of musical theatre throughout my undergrad and at AMDA, it definitely was a show that everyone knew. It wasn't honestly one of my favorite shows ever; I didn't know every lyric and line before I booked the show.
But Angel was always the role that, maybe even subconsciously at the time, I was always drawn to. I was drawn to his kindness and generosity and ability to see the good in people. And Angel has the fiercest outfits! It was a role I always thought would be so fun to play one day.
Tell us a bit more about your role, Angel.
Angel is a street percussionist and drag queen. You discover that Angel is diagnosed with AIDS and is slowly, but surely starting to feel the effects of the disease and it starts to take over her life. But the beauty of Angel is that even in the midst of discovering this horrifying news, which was essentially a death sentence at that time, she decides to still live life in a positive manner. She still wants love and friendship and wants people to feel that they're important and valued.
You kind of get to go on the journey with Angel as he discovers all of those things and gets to find love. And you also get to go through the heartbreaking part of what the disease did to those that had it at that time and how he deals with that as well. It's a very juicy role; a lot of the characters in the show are like that. There's a lot of beautiful moments with everybody.
Angel is often referred to as the heart of the show because Angel, at the core, always wants to exude love and light and happiness and tolerance -- all those good things that we all need to be reminded of every now and then.
How has playing Angel been so far?
It's been such a treat, but also honestly it's been very challenging. There are just so many elements to Angel and you have to dive in and experience all of the emotions and all of the things that come with such a juicy role. It's vocally, physically, and emotionally demanding. It's tough but it's such a treat as an actor to have that opportunity. It really forces you to be present and honor the legacy of the role and of Jonathan Larson.
Do you have a favorite number?
My favorite number is definitely "Take Me or Leave Me." I'm not in it, but I am onstage. I always tell people I have the best seat in the house. The two divas are belting their faces off and I get to sit there and take it in every night.
Is there anything about RENT that you've grown to see differently since being in it?
I think ultimately the biggest thing that I've learned that maybe I didn't realize just from seeing RENT the few times I'd seen it before being a part of it is the message of the show. I always knew it was about "seasons of love," but it's this much deeper understanding that we are all part of the human race.
It's the biggest thing that we all need to be reminded of. You can have different skin colors, different religious beliefs, different sexualities and orientations; we can all be different in so many ways, but at the end of the day we're all human. That's what needs to bring us together. We all deserve love and we all deserve good things. That's what I really learned from being in the show and being in it for such a long time on the tour.
Do you think that RENT still has things that are politically and socially relevant to say to us today in 2020?
Definitely. I always tell people that, like what we touched on a little bit earlier, there's a very different reality for people with this disease today. But there's still a stigma around it; people have such negative connotations of HIV/AIDS. RENT gets to shed light on that and that it's not something that people should be ashamed of, but that people should educate themselves on it. It shows how it was back during the crisis and how many people we lost and how heartbreaking it was. And how lucky we are today to have such medical advancements now.
Other than that, politically, I think it's totally relevant. It talks about tolerance, about how there are people who are different from you and have different lifestyles but that it shouldn't divide us. It should be something we can acknowledge and celebrate. Even if somebody's not your cup of tea or you don't agree with them, it doesn't mean you have to send hate or negative energy towards them. You can just walk away and say, "That's not for me, but you do you." That's something that we can always be reminded of.
Why do you think people should come and see RENT?
It's such a fun show. If you've never seen the show before, there's so much energy and we're so happy to be up there telling the story. We are always excited to have people there who are willing to jump in and experience that journey with us.
There are some heavy themes and there are some moments in the show that can be really sad, but there are also so many moments that are hilarious and energetic and fun. It's the perfect show where you can get a little taste of everything. It's just a roller coaster of emotion. Theatre should be that kind of an experience where you can dive into different worlds and meet different characters and see yourself represented up there and see someone you love represented up there. I want people to come to see it so that they can experience the story.
It's the twentieth anniversary tour, so it's been around for a while. It shows that it's a proven to be a good show because it's been around for so long but people are still loving it and still want to see it. The cast, all of us, we're so grateful to be a part of the legacy and so anyone who is remotely interested in joining, we're like "Please come along!"
Any advice for young aspiring actors?
It's kind of a cliché, but definitely train. It's a career, it's a job like any other job. If you want to become a doctor, you have to go to school and learn all of the medical terms. So train and take classes and learn techniques. If you want to do musical theatre, see how you can make yourself as well-rounded as possible. If you're a really good dancer and actor, but maybe you don't sing as strongly, take voice lessons. And vice versa. Focus on how you can make everything equal and strong, so you can put yourself out there and give yourself the best shot.
Never forget why you want to do it in the first place, which should always be because you love it and it brings you joy and you love to tell stories and dive into different characters. Always remember that you do it because at the end of the day, it's the thing that gives your life purpose. So if there's something else you can do that brings you joy, go on and do that. But if it's musical theatre, never give up on it. Everybody's journey is different and it takes time. But keep working, keep loving what you're doing, and keep investing in yourself.
Photo Credit: Amy Boyle Photography