Rentmeester in The Triumph of the Still
Tami Rentmeester is one of the funniest actors I know. She’s got the rare ability to send an audience over the edge with a single look. She’s also got the guts to extend a pause further than it has a right to go. It takes a special kind of actor to wait a gag out, let it get to that point where it’s not funny and the audience gets uncomfortable, go past the point where most actors break and give in and thus suffer the joke falling flat on its face. Tami will wait until it’s funny again. Then she’ll wait a little longer. Then she’ll wait a bit longer until it’s hysterical.
As such, she’s a hot commodity at Combat. Not that anyone has a choice, the actors are cast at random, but your day gets a little better when Tami’s in your play. “Whether Tami is in a play of mine or not, she usually comes to mind during my writing process” says playwright John Van Slyke. “She’s so versatile and fearless, Tami typically comes to mind for as at least one of the roles. And when she is picked for one of my plays, I know all will be well. Tami brings comfort with many exciting surprises.”
Rentmeester in Fiddler
She’s also a favorite amongst directors. Katie Cummings has had the opportunity to work with her several times. “Some of my favorite moments of Tami in Combat are her portrayal of the madam in the whorehouse that Maclay was interviewing for PBS, playing Sesame Street’s Ernie in Patrick Hollands, “Scalp Those Muppets” and Floyd the Barber in Tony Woods “Triumph of the Still.” Katie adds, “She’s genuine, she’s the real deal, she has the ability to transform into any character she chooses and she works hard. Bottom line, she is beautiful inside and out and I can’t imagine doing a Combat without her.”
So who doesn’t like working with Tami? Just one person: John Maclay. “I don’t like being in scenes with Tami because she is really quite a bit funnier than I am and I don’t like getting shown up at Combat Theatre. Each Combat morning I sit and pray that she will be cast across Bo Johnson or Doug Jarecki as she is also funnier than them. And I have no problem with them getting shown up.”
So enough of the love, let’s have Tami speak for herself.
What first got you involved in theatre?
My folks used to take my brother & me to see the high school musicals when we were little, which is an inexpensive way to introduce your kid to the arts. I saw Brigadoon when I was only about 4 years old and I was BIT. HARD. Plus, we had a ton of cast albums that I listened to all the time. When I was 12 or 13, a friend’s mom was directing a children’s play for the local community group, and I was cast. I never really stopped after that. Weirdly, during high school, I was too chicken to audition for the school shows, but I was continuously doing community theater on the side.
Where did you grow up?
Greendale, Wisconsin. Or, “The Bubble” as all residents between the ages of 13 and 19 refer to it.
Where did you go to school?
Greendale High School. No college. Well, a little bit of UW-Oshkosh for seasoning. No theater/drama/acting school. I got all that training in the trenches.
What was your first professional gig?
I was in the chorus of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” for Milwaukee Opera Company. Which has since changed names a whole bunch of times and may not even exist anymore. I think I made around $40 or $45. Woot! I did a few more shows for MOC, then some Music Under the Stars. It was a while before I made much more than gas money. But hey – at the time, $45 bucks filled my Horizon more than 3 times.
It’s just home. I’ve never strayed, apart from a brief period travelling for regional stuff. When I decided a) It was time to stay in one place. b) That place will not be New York; it just made sense to stay here. I like it here.
The first time I met you was on the docks outside of Skylight (I was doing something in the other theatre and we were having a smokey treat). What show were you doing then?
Ooooh, what was I doing? I think it had to be A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Mr. Bo Johnson was in that show, and I believe he is the one who introduced us. I beat him up every night in Funny Thing. And my wig was made of yak hair. Awesome.
Michelle Smith, Bo Johnson and Tami Rentmeester in Forum
You’ve got a great singing voice, were you trained?
Yes, I was trained. I started out lucky – just accidently sang correctly when belting out Loverboy’s “Get Lucky” album in the living room after school. But I knew that in order to advance in musical theater I needed real training. I studied classical technique privately with Patricia Nelson for several years. I even did the regional Met Auditions. Holy carp, that was terrifying. But rewarding. But seriously terrifying.
Rentmeester as the Fairy Queen in Skylight’s Iolanthe
You’re a great comedian, do you prefer comedy to drama?
I do. I enjoy drama as well, but comedy’s just more fun. (Duh) Plus, I think I’m better at comedy. I think I’m more believable in funny situations than dramatic ones. (Or so I assume. I know people who think I’m hilarious when I’m angry. I hate them.)
What was your favorite gig?
Am I a brown-noser if I say Combat? ‘Cause I love that.
Playing Fruma Sarah in Fiddler at the Skylight fulfilled a childhood dream. I loved doing Honk! at Music Theatre of Wichita, being Ruth in Pirates of Penzance and Sr. Mary Hubert in Nunsense. ONE real favorite? Impossible.
Rentmeester in Honk
What was your scariest gig?
See above re: Met Audition. Not really a gig though. This: Michael Wright cast me in “A My Name is Alice,” and he gave me a pretty sizeable monologue. I was perfectly comfortable standing alone in the middle of the stage to sing. But to TALK? It was the first time I was expected to actually TALK that much. Scared the crap out of me. (thank you for kicking my butt, Michael)
Is there a dream role out there?
I consider myself mostly retired now, so I doubt I’ll ever do it, but there was I time I would have hurt someone for the chance to play Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.
What’s your day job?
I’m a secretary. I get in trouble when I use that word, but I prefer it.
I’m officially Executive Administrative Assistant in Communications & PR and Assistant Vice President at Baird, a financial services company. I really love it.
Besides Sheepshead, what else do you enjoy?
I read like it’s a sickness. I’m such a book nerd that I set myself ridiculous reading challenges with spreadsheets to track & calculate how I’m doing. It’s embarrassing. Don’t tell anyone that.
Tami playing Sheepshead with the boys