Today 4 U, Tomorrow 4 Angel: An Interview With Joshua Tavares on playing Angel in the 20th Anniversary Tour of Rent

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights in cups of coffee— in cities you tour through, in shows that you do— it’s 525,600 minutes! How do you measure, measure a year? In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview, we are fortunate enough to chat with Joshua Tavares, playing Angel in the current touring production of Rent, all about the seasons of love and what it means to fulfil the iconic role in this show.

Thank you so much for giving us some of your tome, Joshua, we appreciate it! If you want to tell our readers who you are and how you got involved with this current touring production of the 20th Anniversary Tour of Rent, that would be great!

Joshua Tavares
Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom Joshua Tavares

Joshua Tavares: Okay great! So my name is Joshua Tavares, I am an actor from Hawaii. Yes, proudly born and raised in Hawaii. I studied acting at the University of Hawaii, and then I moved to New York and studied it some more at The American Musical and Dramatic and I got some musical theatre training there. I’m based in New York City now, I’ve been in New York for seven years. I’ve been auditioning and just doing little shows here and there. This is my first big break, I guess you can call it. This is the first big role I’ve had where everybody recognizes the character. I auditioned for the show at the beginning of this year and here we are. I’m just so excited!

This is your first National Tour?

Joshua: It is my first National Tour, yes!

Is this National Tour going to Hawaii by any chance?

Joshua: It actually is, which is crazy! I get to visit home during this tour, and we go over Christmas! So we get to be some place warm in December!

What is it about Rent that compelled you to go and audition? What is it about this show that made you need to go and audition?

Joshua: This is such an iconic show. Especially when you’ve come up training in musical theatre and grown up falling in love with musical theatre, Rent is just one of those iconic staples in the history of musical theatre, especially in contemporary musical theatre. When I saw the auditions for it, I said, “I have to be in this show. I need to try out. I need to audition for it.” I actually auditioned the first time around. This is the fourth incarnation of the 20th Anniversary Tour. They’ve had several casts throughout the past four years. I’ve made it to the final call-backs before; I never got the offer. But when I heard they were auditioning again, I tried out again, and here we are.

This has always felt like a show that I’ve always needed to do. This role specifically (Angel Schunard) really spoke to me. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, because I know this is a role that anybody would want to do, if they’re a musical theatre fan, but Angel has always been this role on my checklist of “roles I need to play someday.” I am just so grateful that it is a reality now.

What is it about Angel that speaks to you? How are you and Angel similar and different? Do you see yourself in Angel?

Joshua: Yes. What I love most about Angel is that Angel is so genuine and apologetic in her own skin. She can see the beauty in everybody. People might be mean, people might be different, and people might not even treat Angel in a kind way, but she can really wrap her mind around that and see the pain in those people and still exudes kindness and graciousness. That, to me, is a really beautiful quality. That is something that I try to bring into my everyday life. I think that Angel also expands people’s horizons of what is normal or what normal might mean. She exposes you to the fact that people have different lifestyles. People have different believes and you don’t have to agree with everything and you don’t have to agree with everyone, but you can still send them love, you can still send them kindness. You can feel something is not your cup of tea and still walk away saying, “You do you, I’m gonna do me”, she just is that. And if we all did that? I think the world would be a better place.

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo: Amy Boyle
Amy Boyle The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour. Photo: Amy Boyle

What has been the most challenging thing for you playing Angel?

Joshua: That’s a good question. The heels, first of all. They are super tall and they have me jumping up and around all over that stage. I’m jumping off tables, I’m jumping up the stairs, it’s crazy. The heels were particularly challenging and they are physically the hardest thing for me. Also, tying back into the legacy of the show and how so many people love the show so much and how it’s been around for more than 20 years, there is a lot of pressure, especially on the role of Angel, because Angel is known to be the heart and soul of the show. I think that was a challenge for me at first, not allowing myself to overthink it. I needed to allow myself to bring the Angel that I worked on with all the research that I worked on with the choreographer and the director, and just trusting my instincts on how I wanted to bring Angel to this particular production. I had to figure out how to not worry so much about whether or not this Angel, my Angel, was what other people were expecting to see or wanting to see, you know what I mean? That was one of the biggest challenges for me, finding myself in the character while still staying true to Angel but making her who I wanted her to be.

Angel, as we all know, has a lot of fabulous outfits. Do you have a favorite in her wardrobe?

Joshua Tavares as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle
Amy Boyle Joshua Tavares as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle

Joshua: I do! It’s the New Year’s outfit. It’s at the start of Act II and you only get to see it for a little bit, for a short song, “Happy New Year.” It’s the New Year’s party and Angel dresses up as Pussy Galore. She has these beautiful knee-high, bubblegum pink boots. It’s just beautiful with this blonde wig, and I’m only in it for a little bit but I love it. I kind of hope I get to keep those boots. Angel has some of the best costumes in the whole show and I have so much fun wearing all of them.

What would you say is your most meaningful on stage as Angel?

Joshua: I definitely would say it’s the scene in “Seasons of Love B”, which is not the “Seasons of Love” that everybody knows, not the opener for Act II, but there’s a little a reprise of the song. And you see the three couples on stage; you see Maureen and JoAnn, you see Mimi and Roger, and you see Angel and Collins and they’re all in little vignettes, different storylines happening at the same time. But Angel and Collins’ moment is in a hospital room. And Angel— the virus (AIDS) is starting to take over. And you’re seeing the transition from Angel being this exuberant, joyful life of the party, which you’ve seen her to be for the whole show, to seeing the disease start to take over. And it’s the opposite of everything she’s been. You see her with her lover, and you see that this is their reality right now. It brings you back down to earth and you get to see a little glimpse of these two people who are incredibly in love with each other, struggling with this super heavy and super painful moment. They’re dealing with maybe having to say goodbye or trying to figure out what it is going to mean for them and their future. Angel tries to push Collins away and say “you don’t have to stay through this, this is too much to ask of somebody.” And Collins reassure Angel, “No, I’m here for you until the end, baby.” But you don’t hear any of that. There are no words, none of that is spoken out loud. It’s this beautiful, heart-wrenching moment, that for me is the most powerful moment. It rips your heart out. And our Collins, Shafiq (in the role of Tom Collins, Shafiq Hicks) is just incredible; to share that moment with him every night is definitely my favorite part. Just saying it out loud gets me all choked up.

What is the super fun moment that you just live for as Angel?

Joshua: There are so many fun parts, especially for Angel. But it’s definitely “Today 4 U” which is Angel’s big introductory number where you see Angel as a drag queen for the first time. She’s dolled up as Mrs. Claus, basically. That is my favorite number. It’s super entertaining, it’s super fun. That’s when I’m jumping around on tables and stuff, so that part for sure is a huge little burst of joy, which is much needed in the show.

So Angel plays her ten-gallon plastic pickle tub. Did you come into the production with any drumming experience?

Joshua: You know what? I did not. But the music director was really helpful with figuring out some rhythms on the tub and showing me some things to play around with. They were just letting me naturally see what comes to me when I just pick up a tub. They wanted to see what beats I would or could come up with. We found something that really works well for the character and for the song that I play it for. Now I can add “plastic pickle tub drumming” to my list of special skills.

Do you think that Rent is still relevant today?

Joshua: Yes. Of course. That is the question that we get a lot, actually. When we started the show, I was asking myself that, “Is it still relevant?” And the answer is yes. Why I think people still love the show and why I think people still want to see the show, whether they saw it 20 years ago or they want to bring new people with them who have never seen it before, is because at the core the story is about acceptance, it’s about love, it’s about kindness and generosity. All of those beautiful qualities are at the core of this show. And that never goes out of style. Even though the circumstances may change and the specific disease that the show circles around is a much different reality nowadays, it’s still relevant. Back then it was a ticking time-bomb. AIDS was a death sentence. Now, today, that’s totally not the reality of it and not the circumstance. In that sense, in regards to that it has a time stamp on it, but at its core, it’s always been about and is still about love, kindness, generosity, compassion, and acceptance. Those things are things that we always need to be reminded of how important they are to the human race, which we all are a part of. I think that’s what resonates with people. I think that’s why people keep coming back. People are so excited to see this show 20+ years after its debut because of those things.

Shafiq Hicks (left) as Tom Collins and Joshua Tavares (right) as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle
Amy Boyle Shafiq Hicks (left) as Tom Collins and Joshua Tavares (right) as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle

What would you say is the thing that you have learned about yourself as a person, as a performer, in doing this tour in this role at this point in your life?

Joshua: Oof. That is such a good question! What have I learned about myself so far? I feel like it ties back into the show’s overall theme. You don’t have to agree with other people’s lifestyles, there are different ways of thinking, different ways of dealing with things. But you can still send people love. And you can, above all, love yourself, and make sure you are honoring yourself. Being on the road can be super difficult because you’re going from place to place, with different climates. And you’re worrying about your voice, your body, you want to do a good job in the show, you want to honor the legacy of the character and of the show, and of Jonathan Larson. So just remembering that you need to honor yourself first in order to give anybody else anything else of value and of authentic value, you need to take care of yourself first and you need to love yourself first. RuPaul says it all the time, “If you can’t love yourself how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” That has been the thing that I have really learned so far in this tour. Take care of yourself first, Josh, and worry about your responsibility as an actor of course, but also to worry about your responsibility to yourself as a human. The show really opened that up for me and helped me realize what I need to change and what I need to celebrate about what I bring to the table.

If you could be anybody else in the show, and I know you’re in love with Angel and probably don’t want to swap, but if you could be anybody else, who would you be?

Joshua: I actually love Mimi. I would love to be Mimi. Mimi has the best songs. And aside from Angel and Collins, I love Mimi and Roger’s relationship the most. And Mimi also gets to wear some fierce outfits. I would be Mimi in a heartbeat.

What is it that you are hoping people will take away from coming to see Rent?

Joshua: I hope that they take away love. I hope that they take away that people deserve love, people deserve respect. There are some more conservative states that we’re going to go to that are maybe going to be shocked by the story and shocked by the drag queen and that world. Not everybody is exposed to that lifestyle of the New York City lower-east side grungy world that we’re giving you in Rent. Hopefully it opens people’s eyes to realize, “that’s not a lifestyle that I’m used to or that I’ve seen before but I see it now and I see that at the core that it’s really all about love.” And that is the message I can get on board with and I can celebrate, so I hope everyone who comes to see it can too.

525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in your life? Is it by the number of cities you tour through? The number of shows you do? How do you measure your year?

Joshua: Oh my gosh, that’s a good question— I love your questions! How do I measure my life…huh. I’m trying to think of a fun thing. Maybe something that I do all the time. I mean my friendships are really important to me. My friends have become my family, especially living alone in New York City so I would say that the moments I get with my chosen family are the most valuable to me and those are the moments that I cherish.

Joshua Tavares as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle
Amy Boyle Joshua Tavares as Angel in Rent. Photo: Amy Boyle

They shout at the end of the Act I number, “Viva La Vie Boheme!” What does that mean to you?

Joshua: Oh my gosh— for me, “La Vie Boheme”, that song, is a celebration of life. We’re saying “this is our life, and this is our truth.” For me personally, “live your truth, baby. You live your best life. Don’t hold nothing back, don’t apologize. This is it.” All of those mantras are what I am shouting from the mountaintops in that moment.

Why do you want people to come and see Rent?

Joshua: Rent, above all, is such a fun show. There are a lot of heavy scenes, and there are moments that can be a little sad, but overall it is such an entertaining show. The cast is just a burst of energy and love. We’re all so excited to get up on stage every night and share it with an audience. I tell my castmates this all the time, but I feel like the audience is another character in the show. So when the audiences are there and excited, they come on the journey with us. And it takes the whole experience to another level. We just want to share that and have that with as many people as we can throughout the country. Come to the show, I promise it’s going to be a good time.

Rent opens on Tuesday November 12, 2019 and plays through Sunday November 19, 2019 at The National Theatre— 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at 800-514-3849 or purchase them online.

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