BWW Interviews: Part Two of Our Interview Series with the Cast and Crew of McCallum's LES MISERABLES
BroadwayWorld is thrilled to share with you the final installment of our two part interview series featuring the cast and crew of Les Miserables which opens at McCallum Fine Arts Academy tomorrow, Thursday, February 27th.
Epic, grand, and uplifting, Les Miserables engages the emotions of audience members worldwide. Its sung through opera style gives it appeal to exceptional singers, dancers, and production artists. The story line takes place in 19th century France. Jean Valjean is released from 19 years of unjust imprisonment only to find that mistrust and judgment are all he has waiting for him. In hopes of starting a new life, he breaks parole, thus initiating a life-long struggle with Inspector Javert, who refuses to believe a prisoner such as Valjean could change into a good man. During the Paris student uprising of 1832, Javert must confront his personal belief system when it is Valjean who surprises him by sparing his life and saving the life of his adopted daughter's love. His world view shattered, Javert takes his own life and finally leaves Valjean to make peace in his own life. Les Miserables is a powerful affirmation of the human spirit and that is what makes it a masterpiece.
Les Miserables, produced by McCallum Fine Arts Academy, plays McCallum High School at 5600 Sunshine Drive, Austin 78756 starting Thursday, February 27th thru Sunday, March 2nd. Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 7pm with matinee performances on Saturday March 1st and Sunday March 2nd at 2pm. Tickets are $6 for students, $10 for seniors, and $15 for adults. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.mactheatre.com/
Today, we bring you our interview with co-costume designer Sara Walls and lighting designer Jacob Stahl.
BWW: There are few shows that are as well-known or as well-loved as Les Miserables. What was your reaction when you found out that McCallum decided to produce the show this season?
SW: I was very excited, but also somewhat intimidated by the thought of the project. I had made plans to apply for costume designer, but doing the show by myself was daunting, I was nervous to say the least. Thankfully, Mr. Denning decided to pair Dominoe Jones and me together again to take on the project, rather than choosing between us.
JS: I was thrilled to hear that McCallum would be doing Les Miserables for a few reasons: I knew that the show was a beast to tackle due to its grandeur and I was happy to attempt the challenge, additionally I knew that the show is indeed very well known, and so people-the Austin community especially-would have high expectations and I was excited for McCallum to rise to the task!
BWW: Tell me about your job on the show?
SW: As a Costume Designer, Dominoe and I come up with the initial look for each character in the show. We both create sketches, and get them approved. Once that is done and we have a vision of what we need we can work with our crew to make it happen. Usually we start with our inventory, but we buy, rent or make the majority. The exciting part of this project is seeing the final product next to the designs, some characters stayed the way we initially saw them, like Javert, but a lot of them ended up being very different, for instance the Thenardiers. It mainly has to do with the logistics of materializing what we want, which is, honestly, a game of chance.
JS: I'm the lighting designer for Les Miserables. Lighting design often goes unnoticed by the audience unless it's being specifically analyzed, and my goal for the show was to make the audience have at least one moment of "Wow I can't believe the lights!" Lighting design is something I plan to pursue in college and as a career.
BWW: What's your favorite part about being a designer?
SW: I love my position as a Costume Designer, I want to continue studying it throughout my career in theatre. I enjoy clothes and fashion, as well as connecting with the actors and making their character come to life on the stage. What a person wears says a lot about who they are, fictional or not, and it takes a serious attention to detail and a passion for the job. When designing, a person should really try to understand the character they are dressing to have a successful show. My favorite part? I love the creative outlet designing gives me, I don't know of any other high school in Austin that allows students to take on more of a professional role. This not only gives me experience but is wholly enriching. I also really enjoy bonding with the actors in the dressing rooms. Other departments like Lighting or Sound or Stage Management don't spend as much time with the actors off the stage as my crew and I do, from fittings early on to opening night. I get to meet new faces and spend time with old ones.
JS: The Lighting Designer's job is to be focused and create a coherent concept that he or she applies to the design. I like to consider myself a thinker and a visionary person in the sense that I can picture the fruition of a certain idea before it has actually begun. My favorite thing to do as the Lighting Designer is to experiment with different colors and angles of light. Those of you who have seen or will see the show can identify that I strove to focus a lot on the position of the light on the actors and actresses, creating a "3-D" effect on their bodies. I am absolutely in love with the different ways different colors of light have a way of making a person "feel" a certain way- it's an incredible function of psychology, and this is another of my favorite things about being a lighting designer; I can make people experience emotions tied to the scene.
BWW: I've heard that your director, Joshua Denning, is taking a more steampunk, rock opera edge with the show. What has it been like to work with a familiar show but with that sort of unconventional style?
SW: I'm very excited. I'm not a traditionalist, and I love to add new twists or change things up. I've had a lot of fun reimagining the characters for this rendition, especially with our concept.
JS: Working with a steampunk/rock opera approach has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone with lighting and I'm extremely grateful for Mr. Denning for pushing me to those limits. The traditional approach to the show is all that I had ever seen in the past so taking a very unique approach forced me to strain my creative muscles and think of new things I could do with the lights, things that hadn't been done with Les Miserables in the past, to align with the unique approach Mr. Denning chose.
BWW: Has the steampunk and rock style informed your design all?
SW: Yes, it really has. Dominoe and I have talked about how to execute Mr. Denning's vision. With the first mention of steampunk, many think of gears, brown muddy colors, and Victorian values. We decided to take an edgier, more streamlined and period approach to the musical, with another decision: Not everyone is hyper-steampunked. Mr. Denning wanted to have the characters that were "part of the system" be more in line with the steampunk concept and the innocent characters be closer to period.
JS: Steampunk has changed many things about the lighting that otherwise wouldn't have happened. Without giving too much away I can say that the lighting design has its moments of "modern" or "tech" feel to it that align with the steampunk concept. These "modern" effects did not come easy and I needed to research several new methods of lighting before I could take the effects to the level they needed to be at.
BWW: Speaking of Mr. Denning, he actually starred in ZACH Theatre's recent production of Les Miserables. How has his experience with the material helped this production?
SW: I think with the experience in Zach's production it really gives him the knowledge of how others have done specific things and gives him a springboard to make his own decisions and really make the production his own.
JS: First of all I'd like to say that ZACH's production of Les Miserables was fantastic! Second, I was honestly a little worried that Mr. Denning would struggle to create his own production apart from the one he participated in at ZACH. I couldn't have been more wrong. Mr. Denning has created Les Miserables in an entirely unique and fun way I had never seen before. Third, as with any show, the director having a certain familiarity with the show is always a big help, so Mr. Denning's knowledge of the show inside and out has allowed us to create a masterpiece of theatre that is solid and thorough.
BWW: There are so many great performers that have starred in Les Miserables at some point, and most of those performances have been immortalized thru cast recordings or YouTube videos. Do you have a favorite Les Miserables performer?
SW: I really enjoy Carrie Hope Fletcher's performance as Eponine in the West End.
JS: Of course! Matt Lucas's "Master of the House" is incredible! I've always loved that character because of the comic relief it adds to the show and his portrayal of Thenardier was spot on! If it's not Matt Lucas than my other favorite would likely be Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She took a unique approach to the character which I absolutely loved!
BWW: What's been the best part of working on this show?
SW: Probably the enthusiasm of the actors toward the show, whether it be something that has to do with them or not. I would be really excited about a fellow cast member's costume or acting or voice and they would share my enthusiasm. As an ensemble we really look out for each other and care about what we are creating.
JS: I think my favorite part of the rehearsal process was the sitzprobe because, even though I'm the Lighting Designer, I'm a big music dork and when I finally got to hear the incredible voices of the McCallum singers get paired with our champion caliber orchestra, it was a powerful and beautiful moment. The singers and orchestra together create the show and give it the impact it always has. The show wouldn't have nearly the same effect on audiences without the beautiful music.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
SW: The entire "At the End of the Day" through "Who Am I" sequence. The way everyone sounds together, and the acting through their voices coming together, it's amazing to hear their emotion through the music.
JS: My favorite moment is either the ending of "One Day More" because not only is there an incredible music crescendo but there's a lighting one as well, or "The Sewers" because I'm really proud of the lighting effect-which I can't talk about a whole lot-that I was able to create. I was really proud of the sewer effect I was able to create with just lighting and no scenery.
BWW: Any last remarks for BroadwayWorld readers?
SW: I hope you become as excited for this production as I am, and hope the show goes off without a hitch. Thank you!
JS: To the BroadwayWorld readers, I'd like to say thank you for taking the time to support theatre especially high school theatre. We wouldn't be able to do what we love without the support of loyal theatre-loving audiences. Additionally-to those who can attend-I invite you to attend Les Miserables at McCallum High School, come see what the fine arts academy is all about or, if you're already familiar with us, we'd love to have you back for more! Thank you to BroadwayWorld on behalf of myself and everyone at McCallum!