This is the first part in a series covering the production of RENT, giving a behind-the-scenes look into the makings of the performance of the much-beloved Broadway show from beginning to end.
Wild Horse Productions is a family affair. Sisters Tara Burke and Sierra Scott help run the theater business that their parents began in 2007.
Their father, the late Jeffrey Scott, was the administrator and technical director of Wild Horse Productions, the company’s adult theater division.
Their mother, Carol Scott, serves as Executive Director of the company. Carol founded BAC Stage Kids in 2004, a children’s theater company housed at the Brewery Arts Center. BAC Stage Kids morphed into Wild Horse Children’s Theater.
Sierra Scott moved back to Carson City from Los Angeles in 2019 after a successful career in the theater and entertainment business. She and Tara restarted the compny’s adult division with a new name: Wild Horse Stage Co. (WHSC)
“There is so much wonderful theater being created in our area, but we saw a need for contemporary musical theater productions that would engage with younger audiences and bring important issues to our community through the medium of theater,” said Sierra. “We are dedicated to producing high-caliber, innovative productions of contemporary theater that inspire, engage, and challenge the community.”
When WHSC was born in late 2019, the production had no idea that the entire theater industry was about to face its biggest challenge of the modern era: COVID-19. Their first production, “Heathers: The Musical” had to be put on hold one week before opening night in March 2020 due to the shutdown.
To keep morale high, WHSC hosted monthly “Virtual Cabarets” throughout the pandemic, with a different theme every month and performed via Zoom.
“Over a year later, we were finally able to gather together most of the original cast–including one of our leads flying in from New York City–to open ‘Heathers’ last summer,” said Sierra.
Now, WHSC is preparing for their next big production in the form of RENT.
“When we originally started planning to produce RENT last summer, we didn’t expect to still be dealing with this in 2022,” said Sierra. “However, one of the reasons we chose this show was because it deals with another epidemic, HIV/AIDS. RENT also promotes a message of inclusion and acceptance that is especially timely in the current climate.”
Jonathan Larson, the composer and lyricist of RENT, wrote shortly before he died:
In these dangerous times, where it seems the world is ripping apart at the seams, we can all learn how to survive from those who stare death in the face every day and should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.
“We believe that sentiment is just as true today as it was 25 years ago when RENT was written,” said Sierra.
At its heart, RENT is a story rooted in diversity, of telling stories from different perspectives. In a community with less varied demographics, finding representation can be a struggle.
But WHSC was determined that if they were going to tell a story involving diversity, then that diversity needed to be accurately portrayed.
“We have acknowledged from the start of this project that representation matters, and if a show cannot be properly cast, it should not be produced,” said Sierra. “We committed to building a cast that is true to Jonathan Larson’s vision and reflects the diversity necessary to tell this story which includes diverse sizes, abilities, gender expressions and identities, and racial and ethnic diversity.”
The production partnered with IDEA Consultant Anthony Mendoza. IDEA stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility, and helps to assist local productions in community outreach and casting.
“We were fortunate to partner with Anthony to help us reach out in an authentic way to the local community and create a safe space for this work,” said Sierra.
Some might think that theater starts on the page, or as an idea, or with a group of dedicated actors, where it really begins is far less glamorous, but equally important: funding.
Wild Horse Productions was able to receive both state and federal aid since the shutdown, including the Shuttered Venue operators Grant and American Rescue Plan funding through the Nevada Arts Council.
“Funding is so critical not only to acquire the, sometimes very expensive, rights to the show but also to pay our cast and crew,” said Sierra. “We strongly believe in paying all of our artists when we are able to as an acknowledgment of the value they bring to the production.”
Following the secured funding, the next steps to getting the production off the ground were obtaining the licensing rights, setting dates with the Brewery Arts Center, and getting the production team back together.
The show will be performed in the Maizie Harris Jesse Black Box Theater at the Brewery Arts Center, which has opened new opportunities for creativity.
“One of the things we are most excited about in RENT is that it is not a replica of the Broadway show set on a proscenium stage,” said Sierra. “Because we are in the black box space for this show, we were able to restructure the space into a 3/4 thrust, which means that the audience is on 3 sides of the stage. This makes the whole production so much more intimate and immersive. We want the audience to walk in and feel like they are walking onto a NY street.”
Tickets are on sale now for RENT, which will have seven showtimes beginning Thursday, March 3. You can find your tickets here. https://whproductions.ludus.com/index.php?show_id=14727
Kelsey Penrose found her way into journalism by harassing her first editor for six straight months until he finally broke down and gave her a job. Kelsey is an alumna of Arizona State University, holding BAs in English Literature and Anthropology. She is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing with Sierra Nevada University. She lives and gardens in Washoe Valley. Support Kelsey’s work here.
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