It wasn’t so long ago that Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite were in high school, and now, they’re getting the chance to revisit those difficult years in the rock musical "Bare." Trensch and Hite play Peter and Jason respectively—two Catholic boarding school students in a secret love affair.
Though neither actor went to Catholic school, they can relate to the characters they play. “I think high school is a very traumatic and treacherous time for any human being,” says Hite, who went to a very large public school in California and like his character Jason, started high school as a jock, but became drawn to theater.
Trensch went to a performing arts magnet school. “I thought that attending a performing arts high school, I was going to be able to escape bullying," he says, "but I think in any sort of situation like that there will always be bullying present."
An important part of the show is the chemistry between the two of you. How did you work together to develop that?
Taylor Trensch: I feel very lucky because I met Jason during the audition process, and we started reading together in front of the creative team. And almost instantly, we hit it off and had a nice rapport and it hasn’t been something we’ve had to work very hard at, which is exciting and wonderful.
Jason Hite: Yeah. We have a lot of mutual friends, and I would say that I’m about to do the show and they would say, “You’re working with Taylor. You’re going to have such an awesome time." And so I was already under the impression that he was a very giving and soulful person.
Trensch: But boy was he wrong.
Hite: (Laughs) It’s a very important dynamic in the show, if not the most important, and you’re always kind of nervous about what’s going to be thrown at you as far as the person playing opposite you. We both lucked out incredibly, and our scenes are different every night because I think we listen to each other well and are very present and are up for playing with the dynamic every night. There are moments in the show that are not spoken between the two of us—physical stuff or looks—and there are times when it’s almost like I’m talking to him as myself saying, “I’m tired today,” or, “Man, that burger is not sitting well with me today.” So, we get to have our own little story.
This show deals with a lot of tough issues. What was the greatest challenge?
Trensch: First love, which is what Jason and Peter’s relationship is, is so huge, especially at the age we are in this show. To experience that emotion at 16 is just enormous. It’s a major life event. To feel those feelings every night at such a huge teenage level is pretty difficult and exciting.
Hite: These kids are so aware. A big theme that we deal with is media and the Internet and how do you see through that. Jason has all these faces that he gives to different people in his life. He kind of shares his true self with Peter—that’s where he’s most vulnerable and most free. But then he has to go to school and be around these jock-y dudes and still fit in and have no one suspect for a second that he could be in love with a man. And so that was kind of difficult—trying to make it look effortless as far as having a scene with him and then immediately flipping from that and going into a locker room.
As you said, media is a big part of this production, especially Instagram. Is that something that you’re involved in your lives?
Trensch: I’m awful at the Internet and social media. I’m involved in it, but I’m no good. Donyale Werle, our set designer, said something really interesting on our first day of rehearsal about how on Twitter and on Facebook and on Instagram, you’re trying to express yourself in 140 characters and it’s about putting the image you want other people to view as opposed to maybe who you really are inside.
Hite: I’m the same way. I dabble in Twitter and Facebook, but I almost find myself trying to rebel against it because it’s such a tiny form of expression.
Trensch: You’re boxing yourself in. It is a valid form of self-expression. I say that it can be such a façade, but also, there’s some amazing art on Instagram as you can see on our set. Every day I find a new picture and I’m like, that’s a really wonderful photograph that some 13 year old in Kansas took and he’s expressing himself in a really beautiful way.
"Bare" has a cult following from its first run in 2000. Did that put more pressure on you than if you were doing a completely new musical?
Trensch: Certainly, I was a little scared. I know that there were certain expectations from a lot of people. When you love something so much like the fans of "Bare" love this musical, there’s a sense of ownership, and you don’t want this precious thing to change into something that you don’t like. But I don’t think we could let ourselves worry about that sort of reception because what’s most important is that we tell this story truthfully and we service this amazing beautiful story.
Hite: This is my first job in New York, and I asked if this is how it always is with Off-Broadway work and it’s not. We’ve definitely gotten a lot more publicity and eyes on us. For me, it’s very exciting to be a part of, but at the same time it is a little bit of pressure.
Are there any shows for you that had the kind of impact that "Bare" has for many people?
Trensch: "Rent" was a big one for me. That was the first musical that I ever really attached myself to. And "Spring Awakening," which we’ve both done incarnations of.
Hite: Yeah, I would say those two for sure. "Next to Normal" is another one for me. I think one of my friends said that this show takes pieces of all these musicals—"Rent," "Spring Awakening," and "Next to Normal"...
Trensch: "Beauty and the Beast"
Hite: (Laughs)…these pop, teen angsty musicals and takes what’s best about them and puts them all together in one show. While I do have a love for classic stuff like Sondheim—"Sweeney Todd" was the first show that I ever saw so it holds a special place in my heart—I don’t necessarily see myself working in that world because as a performer, I don’t respond as well to it. But there’s something about performing rock music, and there’s an urgency that goes along with it that is inherent to me, so it’s incredibly satisfying to do.
"Bare" is playing at New World Stages. For more information, visit www.baremusicalnyc.com.