This week is a big week for Columbus, Georgia. The 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT is in residence at Columbus' RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. The company, including 17 new actors, is here rehearsing for the relaunch of their national tour.
When a tour season ends and contracts are up,
the company typically undergoes a transition. New personnel join the team, and rehearsals are needed to incorporate new actors and creatives into an already staged show. Hence the term "relaunch."
In addition to new cast members, returning actors are also called back to rehearse with their new teammates. This transition is crucial to the production's success, as these rehearsals are where the show takes shape and relationships form between the cast members.
Benjamin H. Moore is a returning cast member who was kind enough to walk us through his journey to RENT and give us a behind-the-scenes perspective on what it's like to be a part of a relaunch.
Continue reading for our full interview with Moore below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos courtesy of RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, and RENT 20th Anniversary Tour.
Q: You were born and raised in Atlanta. What got you involved in the arts?
A: I am the son of a pastor, so I grew up very involved in church. From a very, very young age my parents could see I was inclined to music. It started with me hearing songs on the radio or at church and then doodling on the piano to figure them out. My mom saw that I was able to play most of them just by hearing them, so she got me into piano lessons.
I come from a traditional home. My sisters and I all took piano lessons, but I was the one who stuck with it in the long run. My formal training in classical music began with piano at a young age, and I continued to sing in the church choir as well. I've been singing at church for as long as I can remember. Our minister of music was incredible and gave me a really strong background.
In elementary school all the way up through college, I participated in music classes at school. By high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue music professionally.
Q: Where were you in school in Atlanta?
A: I went to Tri-Cities High School in Fulton County, which has a very strong music and theatre department. Tri-Cities is a magnet school and I was there for music performance, but I also did theatre on the side as well.
Q: That's phenomenal. It sounds like you had a really rich musical background.
A: I did. I really did, and it was a blessing. It gave me the confidence to pursue what I loved.
Q: I know that you went to Furman University. What led you there?
A: I had never even heard of Furman until my junior year of high school. Our neighbor who lived across the street from me was an older gentleman that was close with my family. He would come over and talk to me often. He went to Furman. He played football, and I believe he was on an academic scholarship as well. He was also a part of Furman Singers. (laughing) I don't know how he had time to do all of that at Furman, but he did. He was an incredible student, a musician, and an incredible athlete. I have always looked up to him
So after talking to him one day about Furman, and hearing all of the wonderful things he had to say about the university, I decided to find out more. I went to my high school chorus teacher at Tri-Cities and asked him about it. Immediately, he said, "Oh yeah. Furman's a great school."
I visited Furman and fell in love with it. Of course, I visited other schools, but I just felt like Furman was going to be the best fit. It's a small liberal arts school, which I thought would be a great choice in terms of getting a well-rounded education. They also had a tremendous music program, and it was small enough where I felt like I wouldn't get lost. In so many of the bigger programs at larger universities, you don't get as much stage time because you're lost in the shuffle. Even with that, my undergraduate degree is in Music Education. But as an ed major, I still wanted to sing, and Furman offered me the ability to do that.
Q: From Furman as an education major, how did you end up in musical theatre?
A: Well, during the latter part of my time at Furman, I wanted to perform. I went and did an opera program in France for six weeks and fell in love with the lifestyle. I knew I had to do it for a long time. My plan was to become this big international opera singer, and I did do one young artists' program at Opera Colorado for one season in Denver. Q: Really? That's amazing.
A: Yes. I was very fortunate to get to work with them that year. I learned so much during my time there.
Then, on a whim, I decided to start auditioning for musical theatre and did some background singing for a friend of mine who a gospel singer. It was awesome. I got some studio experience, and was able to get back into gospel for awhile. This was May of 2012, and I moved back to Atlanta to do some more background singing for other folks in the area.
My old high school theatre director has a professional company now in Atlanta. At the time, he was holding auditions for a Christmas musical. I thought, "Oh, let me go audition for this show. That'll be so fun." I got cast and did the show, and it sparked my interest for theatre more.
At time time, I hadn't done musical theatre since high school, so I started doing more auditions and getting some coaching. I had an acting coach and took some dance classes to kind of catch me up since the classical world is so different.
Once I had the skills under my belt, I started auditioning more regularly. Also, at this time I was teaching.
Q: Oh, you're kidding!
A: No, I taught elementary music for five years in Atlanta. It was awesome. I loved my kids. I loved the job. But I knew if I was going to perform full-time, now was the time to do it. I am young, single, no family yet. This is the time.
So, I resigned from teaching November 2017 because I had been getting offers for shows that I had to turn down because they conflicted with my teaching contract. There was one show in particular that I really wanted with True Colors Theatre Company out of Atlanta. I told myself that if they gave me the call for this role, I would resign.
I got the job and resigned, and five months later is when I was cast for RENT.
Q: That fast?
A: Yes. I was still living in Atlanta at the time. I had flown to New York City for several auditions, and then got the call.
Q: Congratulations. That's very cool. And what a tremendously varied background you have. Pianist, gospel singer, educator, opera singer, and now a musical theatre broadway tour under your belt as well. Amazing.
What has the experience of RENT been like for you?
A: It's been great. This is actually the start of my second season. We are in rehearsals for a relaunch that will begin in Columbus. We're adding 17 new cast members, which is so fun. I'm currently in our third week of rehearsals in New York City, and then we'll come to Columbus to finish rehearsing an open.
The thing about being on tour is that these people become like a family to you. Last season was my first national tour, so I was still getting a feel for the lifestyle and learning the ropes. You spend so much time together with your cast mates - on stage, on planes, in the dressing rooms, in hotels, etc. It becomes like a family.
The beautiful part of what we do as actors, is that the level of relationships we have really only adds to the entire experience. To perform as vulnerably and as authentically as we need to - especially in a show like RENT - the connections need to be there on and off the stage. Honest performances come out of feeling safe and comfortable with each other.
It starts with our creatives. The directors and producers and choreographers do an amazing job of providing an environment that we know is safe and comfortable in the room. If it gets to you and you need to cry, they allow us to take the time. Especially now in rehearsal. They want us to go there and deal with the emotions that arise as we enter into this work. It really fosters an environment that feels like a family, and then when we're all on stage together it just flows from that place. It is a really special thing.
Q: That is beautiful. What is your favorite part about your role in this team of people?
A: My favorite part of my role is getting to sing the male solo in "Seasons of Love." It's such a big song, and even people who don't know much about RENT know that song. They love it. And every show the audience just lights up and gets really into the song.
I love how much joy "Seasons of Love" brings across the globe. Last season, we spent several weeks in Japan and China. This season, we're also adding Canada and going back to Japan. Overseas, people love it. They know all the words to the song and they just smile the entire time. We have people meet us at the stage door to sing it for us. One night, there was a group that had a guitar and violin and they were playing and singing "Seasons" for us. It was really special to connect with them that way. I love the song because it produces such a human response that is global.
Q: What should our local audience know before they see the show?
A: I think I would tell them to come expecting to go on a journey. RENT is about the lives of these artists in the East Village in New York City who are struggling to live. They're struggling and learning to embrace life and all of the challenges that come with it. RENT is a celebration of life. Come ready to celebrate and go on a journey with us. ◼︎
If You Go:
What: RENT (the 20th Anniversary Tour)
When: August 3, 7:30 p.m.
Where: RiverCenter for the Performing Arts