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Dancing Through Time

Houston choreographer Monica Josette brings a unique perspective to TUTS’ production of Rent.

Monica Josette (Photos by Frank Hernandez)

A hometown force of nature will be sharing her talents with audiences at Theater Under The Stars (TUTS) this month. Choreographer Monica Josette is one of the many creatives behind TUTS’ new production of the musical Rent. This ally of the LGBTQ community is thrilled to be adding a unique contemporary feel to the musical through her diligent research of various dance styles. 

May 2023 (Photo by Frank Hernandez)

“This is my first time choreographing Rent, and it’s been going fantastic,” says the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) class of 2000 alum. “In the beginning of the process, I did so much research. For the character Angel, I didn’t want to appropriate styles such as ballroom, whacking, or punking, but I still wanted to try to bring some of those things to the table. Sometimes hip hop can be assimilated and used in a way that [feels] appropriated and not really authentic. I did a lot of research and bought so many books. I rewatched Paris Is Burning, like, 18 times!”

Josette, whose older sister is a member of the LGBTQ community, says that audiences will see plenty of her flair mixed into the onstage choreography. “I’ve been able to have a lot of fun with my personal perspective, and gaze on movement as a character in the piece. I’ve been really able to bring my personality, along with information about the styles of the ’90s. You’ll see some random hip hop things, and dances that will have you, like, ‘Wait a minute! Did they just do the butterfly?’ That, mixed in with some rock things for the opening title-track piece, and more. And in ‘Tango: Maureen,’ I studied ballroom and those kinds of dance styles, as well.” 

The intimate and tragic nature of the musical’s storyline has emerged as the main source of creative struggle for the choreographer, whose goal is to protect the integrity of the performance and, above all else, the comfort of the performers. “Making sure that there’s a safe space for everyone, and that people feel comfortable with what they’re doing, is hugely important. There’s an insane amount of touching, groping, and moving, so as a person who deeply cares about making spaces safe for other people, I stayed up late at night trying to make sure I dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s. Then I asked all the questions, and had conversations about how to move forward in this process of actually constructing each piece.”

The Montrose resident, who performed in Singin’ in the Rain on the TUTS main stage 20 years ago, has also choreographed a number of performances for the musical theater company, most recently The Secret of My Success. She ponders the impact of this current project, saying, “America has a tendency to repeat itself over and over again, and we don’t tend to learn lessons quickly when it comes to rights for marginalized communities. We’re still in the same bag. The conversation about the AIDS crisis, for example, creates room for a new understanding of what that must have been like to [be dying of] something that no one really understood.

“I think there’s a lot of contemporary parallels. Rent may be viewed as a time capsule, but there are plenty of shows that are time capsules, and it doesn’t make them any less relevant. I think that TUTS has done a great job of positioning creators that have new perspectives. They bring so much of themselves to this project that there’s no way it can be the same, original Rent.”

Keep up with Monica Josette on Instagram @monijomagic.

Don’t miss Out@TUTS on Thursday, May 25th, where LGBTQ+ musical theatre fans can enjoy a night of live music, free bites, and drink specials hosted by Regina Thorne-DuBois.  

WHAT: TUTS’ production of Rent
WHERE: The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St.
WHEN: May 16–28, 2023


Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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