Interview: Broadway's Andrea Macasaet Talks Making her Stratford Festival Debut as Mimi in RENT

Learn about Andrea Macasaet's journey to the Stratford Festival and her thoughts on the importance of representation in theatre, as well as the enduring message of RENT.

By: Jun. 02, 2023
Interview: Broadway's Andrea Macasaet Talks Making her Stratford Festival Debut as Mimi in RENT

The Stratford Festival’s much anticipated production of Jonathan Larson's RENT opens tonight at the Festival Theatre. Andrea Macasaet - straight off a star turn originating the role of Anne Boleyn in SIX: THE MUSICAL on Broadway, is making her Stratford Festival debut as Mimi.  A few weeks ago, Broadway World had the opportunity to chat with Andrea about stepping into this role and this show, growing up feeling unrepresented in musical theatre, why the messages in RENT are as poignant as ever, and so much more!

BROADWAY WORLD: Thanks so much for chatting with Broadway World today! How are you liking Stratford so far?

Andrea Macasaet: Stratford is a nice little breath of fresh air from New York City. The allergies are out for blood (laughs), but the river, and the swans – it’s very Fairytale-like. Even when it was snowing when we first got here…It all looks picturesque.

BWW: So you’re Canadian and originally from Winnipeg – Growing up, what was your level of familiarity with the Stratford Festival and with RENT?

AM: I knew of the Stratford Festival later as a fresh out of college kid. Growing up, I was mainly involved in the Filipino community in Winnipeg and at that time for me, Stratford was a place for white people. If I didn’t see anybody that looked like me in entertainment, I just wouldn’t really watch, or I wouldn’t really think that it was somewhere that I could belong. A lot of my entertainment experience as a kid was in karaoke competitions. They’re huge in the Philippines and so whenever there was one in Winnipeg – because Winnipeg has a big population of Filipinos – I was always involved in them.

It was in college when I got introduced to the different theatre companies in Canada and started learning more about them. Even after college, Stratford still looked like a place that didn’t have a lot of representation of minorities and people of colour. And so it felt like it was something unattainable. So it is very exciting to see that they are making shifts. I think they still have a long way to go, but they are taking steps towards that direction in diversifying their company and the overall Festival. So bringing RENT to this corner of the world is a big deal. It brings focus to people of colour and it kind of opens the door to opportunities for Black and Brown skinned people to be like “oh finally, I can do something a little different.” Not to say that their past seasons and past productions haven’t been amazing, but RENT is special because you’ve got different colours and different walks of life telling a story of kids just doing their best and trying to figure it out in this pandemic – and we are just coming out of one! And so to see a story being told like RENT, and that period of time, I think it’s really important and really special.

BWW: I think the timing is so interesting because on one hand, it’s a story of a very specific time and place, and yet the message is so universal anyways, and then as you mentioned, in the time and place we are in right now – the message is poignant in new ways and is so important.

AM: Of course, because the message still carries on through these years. There’s a reason why it’s still ever so true, no matter when you discovered it. I remember watching RENT the movie…that was my introduction to RENT. I remember it (felt like) it wasn’t a story. It was a real thing. I was like "whoa, this is real life." And I remember listening to the music and it not feeling like theatre. "Oh this is rock. This is pop rock." And me just loving it. And that was me as a fifth grader. I was like “this is not ‘musical theatre’ this is a real life thing with people singing rock songs!” And then growing up as an artist I would sing one or two songs from the show. I find you almost revisit RENT, you give it some space and then you revisit it again – and you look at it in a different way every single time.

BWW: That is so relatable. Even this idea of revisiting it, putting it away for a while and then rediscovering it. That is so true about how many people experience this musical.

AM: And you’re just in a different place in your life every time you watch the show. I can’t even imagine the people who’ve seen the multiple different productions. We’ve had people come who had seen the original Broadway show and then the (off-broadway) revival of it, and then the one on the West End. And it’s like, who were you when you watched it then and who are you when you watch it now? What is that feeling? And you take something different away every time because you are a different human.

BWW: From your experience so far, what *does* a ‘Rent Head’ look like in 2023? Is it the same people who were Rent Heads in the ‘90’s? Is it Gen Z discovering it for the first time? Is it all of the above?

AM: I think it’s all of the above. I think the people who have grown with RENT – who have seen the first preview through all the different versions of the show, have shown up to this particular production. And they’re moved. It’s a moving piece. The show is iconic, the songs are iconic, but if you’re really dialed in, I think there is a tenderness and I think that there’s a space for you to just really inhale and exhale the whole thing and just be really present in it.

And then yes, we have Gen Z who come in and are big musical theatre heads, or we have the Gen Z who come with their parents who are like “wait…am I touched? Do I like this?” (laughs). So I think there’s something to take away from it for all different walks of life.

BWW: It’s a very emotional show and I imagine you too are dialed in. How is that after the show? Do you ever find yourself taking Mimi home with you? How does that process work for you as a performer?

AM: Oh no. I leave her at the door! I think for anybody who tells a really intense story, it’s important to know when to tap in and tap out of that. If I brought home the weight of that show every day, I probably wouldn’t be able to function. It’s a lot. And so I think it takes practice and it takes acknowledging where you are that day to be able to say “Ok let’s tell this story” and then as soon as the bows are done, “Ok I’m good now” and then leave her, and leave this story in the dressing room so that I can still lean into my own joy as the artist. I think it is important to know when to tap in and tap out of those big feelings.

BWW: Knowing the project you came from and then this one – big difference there in terms of the tone! By the way, I saw you in SIX on Broadway and you were incredible. I imagine you had to audition for this while you were doing that. Tell me a little bit about getting RENT and the transition from SIX.

AM: Thank you! Stratford reached out to me in September and asked for my availability and asked me to send in a tape for Mimi singing ‘Out Tonight’ and ‘Without You’. When I got the offer, I was still doing SIX: THE MUSICAL on Broadway, knowing that my contract was ending in December. So I had the next few months to really enjoy my time with my best friends on Broadway and then I wrapped up SIX: THE MUSICAL, I went to Argentina and lived my best life as a treat for myself, and then I made the transition to come back to Canada and start this little number!

BWW: Arriving in Stratford in the cold…

AM: Yeah we started rehearsals at the top of February. RENT got to start rehearsals almost a month before all of the other shows.

BWW: Previews began at the beginning of April. Do you feel like your portrayal of Mimi has evolved throughout the previews?

AM: I think I discovered her pretty early on, so a lot of the discoveries that I’m making about her now are the smaller details. Discovering Mimi wasn’t hard. My process with her now is just caring for her and making sure that her story and what she represents is honoured everyday.

BWW: Let’s talk about your castmates. I’d love to hear about your chemistry with your Roger, Kolton – and then also the rest of your castmates – did you know any of them or were you meeting most of those people for the first time?

AM: I came into this production not knowing anybody. We are all Canadian, but when my career took off, I was with 8 other girls from America, so my networking base is all in the US. So coming into Stratford, where a lot of Toronto artists know one another, I walked in, like "I don’t really know anybody," but when you go through a lengthy rehearsal process like we have, you learn how to bond as a cast and you make special memories and create little moments on stage together. That’s what bonds a cast, it’s not the show, it’s the in-between stuff. The cast is lovely. We all care deeply about one another. It’s a really nice space to walk into when you are sharing the stage with a group of humans, to genuinely feel cared for is really nice and safe.

When the casting went out I obviously went into Instagram mode and instagrammed everybody. And Kolton is my Disney prince! Finding the chemistry between Mimi and Roger was really nice and caring. We have an intimacy coach, her name is Alex Sideris. It's interesting because you’re two strangers and now you have to like, fall in love, and so Alex created a really safe space to discover the care and love physically. And it’s easy to just be friends with Kolton. I think we both discovered early on that we were really good at being friends in the first place, and so it was easy and safe to start creating a world of intimacy knowing that we could tap into it and then tap out and be Kolton and Andrea just kicking it.

BWW: Something special about this production of RENT is that it’s on a thrust stage. I’m always interested when a musical that you can really picture in your mind, is suddenly on the Festival Theatre stage. How has that been?

AM: Through previews, we can see when staging works, and when we need to adjust. I know we’ve made an adjustment to a couple of numbers, mine included. It’s lego blocking really. It’s finding this puzzle that works so in that thrust, no matter where you sit, you can still see that story and the impact in the far corner is still as big as if you were sitting centre orchestra. We have the time to really play with the staging and open it up so that no matter where you sit, the story is still as impactful visually.

BWW: Something I love to do in that theatre is to try to see a show multiple times from different spots. It’s fun to follow the ensemble tracks from different perspectives and you can sometimes catch little things from one place that you might not see in another. And I imagine RENT will be a really good show for that.

AM: Yeah, I mean it’s a piece really driven by the ensemble. RENT is nothing without the ensemble. Yes, you have these important stories between these partnerships, but what drives those feelings is the world in which the ensemble creates. And I think that’s with every show. It’s the ensemble that drives. You as a principal can only carry so much, but the ensemble will give that “umph.” It’s everything from the 'Seasons of Love' solo, to the soloists who support Collins in the 'I’ll Cover You Reprise' and it’s the 'Will I' solo before all of us come in. It’s all of those moments that we kind of forget because we think of the big songs like 'One Song Glory' and 'Out Tonight' but those really tender moments, where like, Alex (Wierzbicki) sings “Will I lose my dignity” as a solo, in the solo spotlight. That’s what really does it for me. So much of the success of our show is due to our ensemble.

BWW: Tell me about working with Director, Thom Allison

AM: You can just tell from the start of the process that Thom has such a connection to this show and a connection with the different characters in this piece. He’s coming back to it years later after being in the cast (of the original Toronto production) and he’s also in a different place in his life, so he’s approaching this, from what I’ve seen, with a lot of care for this piece and there are new discoveries that he’s also making while we are making discoveries on our own too.

BWW: Well, I cannot wait to see the show on Opening Night. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Broadway World!

AM: Thank you!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

RENT continues in Repertory until October 28th. For tickets, visit: Click Here



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