BWW Interviews: kidsActing Artistic Director Dede Clark on LES MISERABLES
BroadwayWorld Austin is pleased to share our Q&A with Dede Clark, Artistic Director of kidsActing, regarding their current production of LES MISERABLES.
kidsActing presents LES MISERABLES, the legendary, award-winning musical about one man's struggle to overcome his past and the lives he touches along the way. Set during a nation's time of great turmoil, this epic tale of perseverance and strength of the human spirit will be performed by kidsActing's advanced students. The show will run February 13-March 2 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm at Center Stage Texas.
Tickets: Adults (18+) $15.00, Students (17-) $12.00, Current kidsActing students (spring 2014) $10.00.
The story begins in 19th-century France when Jean Valjean, a convicted man, breaks his parole and escapes from the ruthless policeman Javert. His efforts to cleanse himself of his sins by adopting a dying factory worker's daughter will change all three of their lives forever as France enters a period of great turmoil and historical change. kidsActing's version of what many have deemed 'the greatest musical of all time' is a wonderful way to introduce the whole family to this famous tale. The emotional roller coaster of laughter, tears, love, loss and triumph is made all the more astounding when performed by youth. LES MISERABLES begins February 13, 2014 with a special benefit performance on February 21st at 7:30pm, with proceeds supporting Center Stage Texas, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to serving East Austin youth.
Performances at Center Stage Texas, February 13 through March 2, 2014. Tickets and more information available at www.kidsactingstudio.com.
BWW: What is KidsActing?
DC: kidsActing is here to create community through the arts. We want to provide a supportive, fun environment where young people can be creative, expressive, improve communications skills and learn important life skills. Everything we do is for and about the well-being of kids. I used to work in the film business, helped Joel and Ethan Coen on their first picture, Blood Simple, shot here in Austin. Just prior to that, I was asked to teach an acting class for a non-profit film company. As a favor, I did. While I loved working on the movies, I discovered that I loved working with kids more. So, I decided to go with my passion, borrowed $3000 from my mom to buy a video camera (yup, that's what they cost in the early 80's) and started an acting school with eight students in my first class, one of whom, in his forties now, brings his daughter up from Houston every summer to be in a kidsActing camp. In the past 34 years we have produced over 100 plays and musicals, a weekly TV news show done by kids, created 8 original musicals with songs written for them by numerous Grammy winning Texas singer-songwriters including Willie Nelson, Ray Benson, Marcia Ball, Steve Fromholz, Joe Ely, Eliza Gilkyson, Butch Hancock and many, many more, expanded to be in 14 locations, have started a non profit that gives free theatre, art, and dance classes to low-income children as well as a variety of classes for children with various disabilities. We have taught thousands of children and are now teaching the offspring of many of our former students. We have given many young people their first jobs and actually have adult staff who grew up performing at kidsActing. We have won numerous B. Iden Payne awards, the Nickelodeon Parent's Pick Award, and were voted Best of Austin so many times that we were inducted into the "Hall of Fame All Time Austin Chronicle's Reader's Poll Winners." To say the least, my life has been busy, full, and rich and I feel enormously lucky to get to do what I do.
BWW: What led to the decision to do Les Miserables?
DC: We have done Les Miserables in the past but I decided to do it again. In spite of the obvious that the movie came out and the kids were excited, it was a bit more political for me. We see the polarization of our world because of money, religion and politics. I experienced the May 1968 riots in Paris, I thought about the Arab Spring, and most recently the Ukraine; the never-ending fights that go on all over the world and the subsequent loss of youth. I have a group of smart, passionate kids and this seemed like a perfect choice for them to not only do a musical they love, but to encourage them to look at the world with a broader scope. I sent this to my cast last night after the show:
Tonight at the performance I mentioned my former student, who was in our first production of Les Mis many years ago. She and her husband are in the diplomatic service with the U.S. State Department in the Ukraine. They are expecting a child. Today, while driving to the theatre, I heard a radio interview with a Ukrainian activist who talked about being "at the barricade." In describing the chaos and fighting, he used the actual words, "the blood of the martyrs..." I saw this picture tonight and wanted to share it. Two hundred years later, still at the barricades. May we pray for peace all over the world, in every generation.
Here's a photo recently taken in Ukraine...
And here is a photo from our show:
BWW: The performers and their families must be very excited that KidsActing is doing a show as well-loved as Les Miserables. What was their response like when you announced that you would be producing this show?
DC: The kids were thrilled that we were doing it. We have done it in the past, most recently about six years ago, but because the movie was out, more folks were aware of it. I saw first it in the late 80's in New York, and subsequently have seen it in London and a couple of road shows. It's a show rich with passion that can touch hearts, which is why I go back to it.
BWW: Is this the first time KidsActing has attempted a show of this size?
DC: As I said we do 8 productions each year. Our advanced classes produce two productions each year. This year we are doing LES MISERABLES and then Shrek, the Musical in May. The group that performs in May includes some younger kids than are typically not in the fall production. In the recent years we have produced many shows on this scale including Urinetown, Rent, Into the Woods, Chicago and many others.
BWW: How long do the performers involved get to rehearse?
DC: We rehearse every Saturday beginning in September. Beginning in January, we rehearse twice a week. When we tech, we tech three times a week for three weeks. It's not a normal schedule, but these kids are mostly in high school and have lots of schoolwork so this works best for them. kidsActing is about kids. It's why we are here, so everything we do is to make it work best for them. We also do something different. The show is multi-cast, meaning that the show someone sees on Friday night has a somewhat different cast than the show on Saturday night. We have three Cosettes, three Eponines, etc. On nights they are not playing their main role, they are chorus members as well as running crew, teaching them to support the whole production in various ways. I have found that doing this gives more kids opportunity to stretch and grow in larger roles, and is also what I call "diva prevention." For example, when we have done Beauty and the Beast, there are three girls who play Belle, the most coveted role. When not playing Belle, the two "non" Belles play, among other things, Phillippe, the horse. So, at some point in the run of the shows, each talented girl who plays Belle also plays a horse's behind. No divas grow there. What is beautiful is that the kids all support each other so much. Once I had a girl playing Kate in Kiss Me Kate who was not up to speed on her lines and songs, so I told her I was going to pull her if she didn't have it all down the next time we met. Instead of the other two secretly hoping that would happen so they would get more performances, they invited her over for the weekend and worked with her until she knew her part. These are the moments that make my heart so happy, and because I've worked with kids all these years, I've had many, many moments like that.
BWW: What was the best part of the rehearsal process?
DC: The best part is every rehearsal. I love every moment I get to spend with the kids. I love to guide them, teach them, laugh with them, see them grow and improve as performers and human beings.
BWW: How have audiences responded to the show?
DC: The audiences are amazed. We have been sold out every performance and could sell out another 10 shows this weekend! I am including a letter we received from someone who came to the show:
I'm sure that many wonderful, magical things occur every night around the world. I don't mean small magic, like the cover to the jelly jar falling in just the right way so as not to make a mess. I mean big magic, the kind you tell people about, write home about and remember always. Yes, I'm sure that around the world there were big magic moments last night, not so few as to be unique but few enough to be considered rare. That was the kind of magic that came off the stage and enveloped me last night.
After many years of attending KidsActing performances, I came as a parent, expecting to be proud, proclaiming objectivity while privately admitting to its impossibility. So, as the house lights dimmed I settled back in my seat and expected to be happy with another good performance. Then the magic happened.
The problem that comes with years of enjoying fine productions at Center Stage is that once you have used up all the words like "great", "wonderful" and "magnificent" you are left with no words to describe an event like last night's. It's easy to see theater in the future of all in the cast.
Thank you, Dede. Thank you all the folks behind the scenes. Thank you to the cast that brought the magic to life. Thank you all. You took my three hours and made them something to write home about and remember always.
Also, this from someone who is NOT related to anyone in the show:
The experience of this production last night was astounding. I have seen a professional production at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, and it could not compare to the soul and passion of the presentation last night. In contrast the professional production was slick and perfectly choreographed but was devoid of emotion. It was a production rather than a telling of a story. Last night's production still resonates this morning. It was so moving that I was in tears at the end.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show or in the process?
DC: Just seeing the passion, the fervor, the honesty that the kids have when performing. There is no "moment," it's a series of moments that add up to the whole show.
BWW: Any last remarks for BroadwayWorld readers?
DC: Kids can do anything if given the opportunity. Believe in them because they are not only the future, they are now!