is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

RENT's Tracey Bonner Has a New Lease On Life

When SummerFest's production of Rent opens tomorrow night at the arboretum, the explosion of talent onstage will most likely bedazzle the arboretum audiences with an array of songs, music, costumes and dance. All these elements will come together in large part due to the energy and vision of director Tracey Bonner, who tells me she found a new lease on Life, just in time for Rent.

As the music begins and the songs start to tantalize, the crowd may appreciate the fruits of a labor of love for Bonner, a self-described organic choreographer, however, what may not be known is that although she's always been a champion of the underdog, Tracey has overcome quite a bit of adversity herself. 

Indeed, the energetic young lady seen breaking down each line, each step, each bit of musical movement with the rehearsal roomful of Rent performers over the few weeks has a story of her own to tell, one of triumph, despite the fact that just last July, Bonner unexpectedly found herself fighting the odds to survive her own journey back to health, back to the warm, healthy, smiling ladybug that she is known to be by her students, family, fans and friends.

A year ago, sudden ailment and the ensuing complications that were inevitable caused a transformation of sorts to this choreography contessa, who completes SummerFest's triune feminine directorial force with the show that transformed musical theatre and gave a voice to a generation, Jonathan Larson’s blockbuster musical, Rent. So it is certain to be with mixed emotions, joy and exuberance when Tracey lets go of the reins as the show is performed by its wonderful cast while she watches with pride tomorrow night (through Sunday :)   More about that below, but first, why did she want to do this show, at this time, in this location?

Bonner explains, "I have always been a person that lobbies for the rights of others. In California there have been HUGE battles over same sex marriage and the rights of gay couples. I find it amazing that certain groups feel they have the right to fight AGAINST other people having certain human rights. Being a woman and part of a group of individuals who 50 years ago didn't have the right to vote AT ALL, I find issue in some women feeling they have the right to tell others they don't deserve the same freedoms. Knowing Lexington has a huge gay population, knowing there are also religious groups that oppose gay rights, and making it a personal focus to always see people for the human being they truly are, as well as having a tremendous love for theatre and its ability to open people's hearts---it seemed the perfect place and the perfect time, and the perfect story for me to be a part of."

Tracey believes the biggest message in Rent "is that people are people, that we all want the same thing in life, regardless of if we are gay, straight, black, white, male, female. We all want to find REAL love, either in a committed intimate relationship, or in a familial setting, and we all deserve to find that kind of support on this planet. It seems so easy for people to place judgment on others that are different from themselves without really seeing the human being that lies beneath the surface. Even in our own cast, there have been judgments cast without truly looking at the other person--we are all scared of what we don't know or of what takes us to an emotional place that we might not be able to handle. I think Rent shows real life with all of its scars and difficulties, and doesn't apologize for them, but gives them status---like a magnificent jewel on the skin. From my perspective, it is easy for people that have not had to face something difficult to place judgment on those who have and view it with compassion. If we can open people's hearts and minds to view the world and each other with compassion, then we are closer to the way I believe our God, or Higher Power, whatever you might call Him, wanted our experience on earth to be."

The message that Bonner has gleaned from this production clearly has a personal tone to it, since she knows full well how fragile life can be...and thus, how precious it is.

Last summer, a year ago to be exact, Tracey was hospitalized for what was originally thought to be a reproductive cancer, which ended up being a misdiagnosis, but the infection in her body required exploratory surgery, weeks of tests, medications and ultimately almost 6 months of regaining of strength and personal confidence to discover the proper diagnosis. "When you face something that could kill you and you don't know what it is, it is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. My immune system shut down and no one could figure out why or how to fix it. There were times during this hospital stay that held so many things including seizures, vomitting, unbelievable pain, not being able to stand without support, and medications that actually made me sicker and weaker, and for someone who has always been physically strong--this was a nightmare. There were times during this illness when my greatest focus was to eat a cracker in an hour. If I could eat a cracker in that hour, then I would make it to the next hour and on and on. I can only imagine that this is what it might feel like to be dying from AIDS, or at least the closest reference I have. When you have been through something like this, you truly do look at everyday differently. I remember looking out my hospital window last summer and would say to my family "hope they have a good crowd at summerfest tonight' and would secretly wonder if I would be back out there again. A year later, I look over at Central Baptist Hospital's lights each night I am out at the park and tell someone over there, 'whoever it may be, you WILL get better!!' It is really on 525,600 minutes--you will get better."

After Rent has had its romp at the Arboretum, Bonner is headed west, with a mind toward discovering the next  best showcase for her passion and talent. "I have a contract to teach in three universities in Southern California in the fall, and I will continue to work with the Park Avenue Players in Laguna Beach for the next year. I am still searching for that University job that will provide me the security of work, and the ability to create the art I love in a place that I truly love, where the people of that community love me and love what I do, and to be the inspiration to younger artists to create, challenge, and change the world through their visions. I am excited to present at an academic conference in Hawaii in January, and to continue to learn and grow as an artist and in all that I do."

So, does Tracey Bonner have a Secret Talent? She laughs, "I do twirl a mean rifle!" However, true to her word of living every day to its fullest, she tells me what she's really stoked about is what she'll be doing in just a few short weeks. "I have been on a board once, but will be spending August learning to surf---from a friend who was on the Olympic team many years ago that lives in Laguna near me....GOOOD stuff!!!"

It all makes sense now. She's not just a director and choreographer, she knows how to have patience so she can ride the perfect wave.  


SummerFest continues a 29-year tradition of outdoor summer theatre at The Arboretum: State Botanical Garden in Lexington, KY. This year's season includes:


by William Shakespeare

Directed by Ave Lawyer

PRIDE & PREJUDICE (July 14-18)

adapted by Jon Jory

Directed by Sullivan Canaday White

RENT, THE MUSICAL (July 21-25)

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson

Directed & Choreographed by Tracey Bonner

Music Direction by Mark Calkins

*Mention must also be made of vocal director extraordinaire, Mark Calkins, whose contribution has been one of inspired musical determination as he carefully and meticulously coached the singers into solid sales of their songs with every note and lyric over the weeks leading up to this musical extravaganza.

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops" -- Henry Brooks Adams


SummerFest concludes with the show that transformed the definition of musical theatre, rocked a generation and changed Broadway forever, Jonathan Larson’s blockbuster musical, RENT, playing July 21 though July 25, 2010.

Tracey Bonner, no stranger to the Lexington musical theatre scene, makes her SummerFest directing debut with this Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning musical.

RENT Cast Includes:

Mimi Márquez -Jessica Lucas
Roger Davis - John Dawson

Mark Cohen - Chip Becker

Maureen Johnson - Caroline Griffeth

Angel Dumott Schunard - Emanuel Williams

Tom Collins - Nick Vannoy

Joanne Jefferson - Sheronda Piersall

Benjamin 'Benny' Coffin III - Thomas Gibbs

Seasons Of Love Soloist - Andrea Johnson

The Ensemble Includes:

Taylor Eldred

Casey Mather

Justin Norris

Sarah Matthews

Brandon Smith

Cate Poole

Beth Kovarik

Wood Van Meter

Katie Berger

Nick Covault


All SummerFest 2010 performances will begin nightly at 8:45 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, at the Arboretum: State Botanical Garden of Kentucky on Alumni Drive. SummerFest tickets will go on sale in June 2010 and will once again feature very affordable single ticket prices of $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Season Passes to see all three shows will also be available at $25 for adults and $12 for kids.

For more information on SummerFest, or the Conservatory programming, please visit them the web at

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