by REAGAN MOTSINGER - Westfield Thespians perform the timelessly iconic Les Misérables.
WESTFIELD, Ind. (March 21, 2019) - Based on a novel published over 150 years ago and adapted into a musical in 1980, Les Misérables remains a world-renowned stage production. This year, the theatre department finally took the leap and put on the performance, which broke Westfield’s ticket sale records and dazzled hundreds of patrons each night with its beautiful songs and emotional tale of the June Rebellion of 1832.
The show presented a unique set of challenges to the actors and directors including the fact that it was sung-through, meaning there were very few spoken lines, unlike most other shows.
“It’s a pretty big task when you really realize that you don’t really have the ability to time out how you’re going to say things,” Cooper Brooks (12), who played Jean Valjean, said. “You have to say it with the rhythm and still show emotion in it, so it’s pretty hard, but it sounds pretty good in the end.”
While the show’s songs required precision and practice, some actors found the music helpful for developing characters and reading the subtext of their lines.
“I prefer it being sung-through because I’m much, much better at portraying emotion through sung words than [spoken] words,” Griffin Burge (11), who played Thenardier, the thieving innkeeper, said.
For actors like Ella Hiple (9), who played a thief, a nurse and a factory worker, character development and portrayal were already challenging. Hiple used more than just the music to make character choices while she was on stage.
“I feel like the hardest part for me has definitely been figuring out when I need to be what character because there are a lot of parts where I’m just like standing in the back, kind of observing what’s going on in front of me, and I don’t know who I want to be since I have like three different roles,” Hiple said. “The costumes help a lot because then you can just use those to play off who you want to be.”
Once actors were in character, they had to decide why and how their characters got into a certain situation, even if their blocking was done a certain way for convenience or necessity. To Erin Reed (10), this was another helpful learning experience for diversifying her sentry and factory worker characters.
“I think it really helped me grow as an actor to try to think, ‘Okay, I know I have to do this blocking, but why would my character be doing this?’” Reed said.
For many of the cast members, Les Misérables was their first high school show, so it was a different experience than any shows they had done in the past.
“[Unlike middle school,] you aren’t only on stage if you’re singing; you’re on stage to add to the story, and I feel like that’s helped a lot with my character development because I’ve never really thought about portraying a character as different than I was,” Hiple said.
When they weren’t on stage, the cast spent a lot of time together, becoming “a second family,” in the words of some.
“I’ve really connected with the freshman guys whenever I could during the show, so when I leave, I feel confident that we’ll have some good actors when I’m gone,” Brooks said.
The underclassmen and newcomers in the cast looked to the experienced upperclassmen like Brooks as an example.
“I think looking at the seniors and the juniors who’ve been doing this for a very long time, seeing how they went about things and how they got into their characters and how they got into the mindset really helped me as well, and it inspired me to do my best and to go into it with a positive attitude,” Reed said.
This positive attitude spread throughout the cast, even during tough rehearsals, to unite them and create an incredible final product.
“Everybody knew that this was a hard task, and we rose up to it,” Burge said. “We weren’t worthy, but we made ourselves.”