Shalom Life | April 17, 2014

Katrina Bershteyn on 'Rent' and Life After Theatre School

The young performer talks to Shalom Life about the Toronto production of the hit musical "Rent."

By: Ilan Mester

Published: May 22nd, 2012 in Culture » Stage » Interviews

Katrina Bershteyn on 'Rent' and Life After Theatre School

Fresh out of theatre school, Karina Bershteyn is keeping things busy performing in the Theatre Sheridan production of Rent at the Panasonic Theatre. The young performer dishes about the award-winning musical (on stage until June 3), Bette Midler and her advice for other actors in this exclusive interview.

What drew you to theatre?

Performing has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would put on little song-and-dance living room concerts for my family and their friends. There’s just something so thrilling about getting up in front of an audience and sharing a story (and essentially a part of yourself) with them. It’s been said that theatre is the most powerful catalyst for empathy and compassion, and I think that statement couldn’t be truer. It is incredible to know that the story I’m telling when I’m on stage can reach out to someone in the audience and make them feel something. Whether it inspires them, makes them laugh, makes them cry, makes them think, or even angers them, it doesn’t matter which, it connects us all. I truly believe theatre puts life back into all of us, whether it’s from the audience’s perspective or the performer’s. And knowing that, I knew I had to be a part of it.

Growing up, who were some of the actors and performers that you admired?

I’ve always loved Bette Midler, not just for her incredible work, but also for her integrity as a person. She is a woman who never seems to compromise who she is by means of extreme weight loss or plastic surgery, unlike her fellow Hollywood actresses. She is an amazing character actress but is never phony about it, her performances are always honest. She embraces who she is as a person, and I think that’s why her work is so engaging. Every role she plays has that little bit of “Bette” in it, that nobody else would ever be able to bring to the part because it’s so uniquely her.

Were you a Rent fan before signing onto the play?

The only version of Rent that I’d seen before signing onto this show was the film version that came out in 2005. I fell in love with the music instantaneously (the song “Out Tonight” was on constant replay on my iPod), but I always felt the film version was missing that extra “something” that only live theatre can provide. So when I was cast in this production the first time Theatre Sheridan produced it (back in winter of 2011) and was able to see how the show played out on a stage, I understood how RENT has accumulated such a huge fan base. On stage, this show is sheer brilliance.

Rent is one of those shows that are constantly in production. Why do you think audiences connect with the play?

The story of Rent is truly universal. The show centers mainly around characters who live in dire conditions, and whether they live a life of poverty or suffer from disease (or both) they all find hope in the same place; love. Love for their art, and love for the people in their lives. At the end of the day, that’s all that’s left, and in the end, that’s all that truly matters. These characters must live like they will die tomorrow because, for some of them, tomorrow really may never come. And while most audience members may not experience these kinds of extreme circumstances in their day-to-day life, the message that can be taken away from the show is absolutely applicable to each and every one of us. I think the show has been such a huge success because it is powerful and inspiring, and it reminds us that each day is a gift, and cannot be taken for granted.

What's it been like working with all these theatre professionals and rehearsing for the show?

Our creative team for this show has been an absolute dream. I feel confident in the rehearsal process of our show because these seasoned professionals come in knowing exactly what it is they want from us, but at the same time are still open to new ideas. Lezlie Wade, Bob Foster, and Marc Kimelman each have high standards for us, which is fantastic because it pushes us to do our best work. They are so passionate about what they do, and about what they are doing with this show in particular, and the passion is contagious.

What advice do you have for other young performers?

If you are passionate about performing and want to pursue it as a career choice, the best thing you can do for yourself is take classes. Just like any other profession, it’s so important to learn the proper skills and techniques whether it’s for singing, dancing, acting, or all three. You wouldn’t expect to become a successful lawyer without going to law school, so it’s no different for performers. Constantly taking classes and continuing to learn helps you grow as an artist, and it can make the difference between an alright performance and an incredible one.

What's next for you?

After Rent closes I will be making the big move to downtown Toronto, and will continue to audition for work and take classes. Alongside theatre, my plan is to make my way into film and television work as well; it is a side of the industry I am very passionate about. There’s so much opportunity out there just waiting for all of us, I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

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