Fox’s live broadcast of the hit musical Rent is coming up, and rehearsals are well under way and designers are working their magic to bring the production to life. As the Sunday, January 27, presentation draws closer, Broadway Direct sat down with production designer Jason Sherwood, who shared with us how he has approached reimagining the scenic elements of Rent for television.
Sherwood is a celebrated designer of stage and screen. In 2017, his work for the Off-Broadway production of The View Upstairs was nominated for Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Awards. Upcoming projects include designing The Spice Girls World Tour 2019 and The People’s Choice Awards. He has an ongoing collaboration with Oscar and Grammy Award winner Sam Smith for his TV appearances and his upcoming world tour, which is Madison Square Garden–bound. He has a vast array of credentials for work in regional theater that include designs at The Old Globe theatre, the New York Theatre Workshop, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre (just to name a few).
Before we get into details about Rent, can you give us some background on your career as a designer?
Scenic design is something that I got involved in when I was in high school. I had a variety of creative interests, which included writing, reading, storytelling, graphic design, and theater. All of these interests came together in the world of theatre design. Growing up just outside New York City in New Jersey, I saw a lot of theater that continued to inspire me. I went to NYU for undergraduate study, where I worked with many talented people who guided and instructed me. From there, I took internships, worked as an associate designer, and then began taking on my own projects.
In your theatergoing experiences, had you seen Rent in New York City, or is the live production your first contact with the show?
I saw Rent several times in New York City and I am a big fan of the show. When I sat down with Michael Grief, Adam Siegel, and Marc Platt to discuss my ideas for the set design for television, I shared with them, from a fan’s point of view, what it is I would want to see in a design for Rent.
Since you were familiar with the show, what are some things that stand out to you about it and that drew you in?
When I first saw the show on Broadway, I sat in the back of the mezzanine. Then I saw it again up close in rush seats. I think those two perspectives stuck with me and ultimately offered a vision on how I saw the show translating to television. That variety of perspectives, from those two different seats, demonstrated how to look at it for the television medium, where cameras film close up and pull back and reveal the whole performance space.
What was the biggest challenge of taking a show that was created for the stage and reimagining it for a live television production?
The key challenge, and the key opportunity, is taking a show that was initially written for a proscenium stage and view it as a 360-degree immersive experience. We tried to develop the piece so that it exploded off of the screen in a 3-D way, while maintaining the life force and vitality it had onstage. For the live production, we also thought about how the show could have the live audience interacting with the piece.
Was there anything in particular you were hoping to capture and/or convey in your design for Rent?
For sure. Rent is essentially a period piece set in New York City at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There was a lot of darkness, a moodiness and a grit in New York City at the time. It was both intimidating and sexy. I also wanted to capture the quality of the people of the time and have them pop off the set with blazes of color, just like the art, murals, and graffiti that these artists would create. We wanted a contrast between the people and the place. The Life Café is one of the most colorful places in the set design. It’s a safe space, a haven for these people, a bohemian version of the bar from the TV show Cheers, where “everybody knows your name.” We also had to capture the world of Mark and Roger’s apartment: the leftover discarded furniture, posters from Roger’s old gigs, Mark’s moviemaking equipment.
Explain how the sets work in front of a live audience in a television studio: moving to multiple locales, etc. How is this addressed?
I can’t say too much about this one. What I can tell you is that it is going to be very different from other live productions. The set is going to be environmental and immersive, relying more on things coexisting in the same space.
Is there anything you have incorporated in the Rent set that has personal meeting for you? A little Easter egg or something we might not know is there, but you do?
There is. I often incorporate little nods to my family — particularly my mom — like a family photo in a frame or something like that. For Rent, there are a couple. One of them comes on the architectural rendering that Benny reveals of the new building he has planned. On it is printed “Pedra,” which is my Mom’s maiden name. Also, on a pay phone, it says “For a good time, call Cindy,” and the phone number that follows was our old home phone number.
What do you think audiences are going to like most about the live performance of Rent? Assuming you’ve sat in on some rehearsals, what is going to be the biggest thrill for us?
Yes, we are well into rehearsals. I’ve seen it so many times I could probably step in for anyone in the cast. There are many things that are going to be thrilling: the way that we are presenting the story and the first-rate cast who brings a contemporary feeling to the piece while remaining true to its time and place. The show feels like a Broadway musical, a rock concert, and an art installation combined into one. Television audiences are going to feel like they have a front-row seat. And, of course, there is the music, which is a classic score but remains terrific and accessible today.
If you could tackle designing another Broadway musical for a live production, what would it be and why?
I think I’d like to do something original, honestly. Something that is new, that you can grow from your own ideas, that doesn’t require falling back on something we already know or where audiences have certain expectations defined by their past experiences with the piece.
If you were going to offer any advice to young and aspiring designers out there, what would it be? How do they plan a path that best gets them what they need to succeed in the business?
I think the advice I’d offer anyone in this industry is to ask a lot of questions. At points in my life I feel like I have been a nuisance with questions, but the people in this industry are so generous. Identify people who you think are amazing. Be polite and respectful. Ask them if you can chat over a cup of coffee. If you reach out to someone with specific questions, you will be amazed at how helpful many show business people are willing to be.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.