Becky Timms is the Director and Choreographer for the Teen Conservatory production of Les Miserables.
When Hester Kamin first offered me the job of directing and choreographing Les Misérables at Gulfshore Playhouse, I was thrilled. What a beautiful show, wonderfully classic story, haunting music, etc. It is truly one of my favorite musicals of all time. I accepted the offer with glee.
Then it hit me, “hummm, how am I going to do Les Misérables on the Norris Center stage?” This is a piece which usually requires a huge turntable on the stage and numerous massive set pieces. Not to mention the fact that it has very adult themes and difficult music.
The first part of the puzzle: the cast.
The music for Les Mis is very difficult even for seasoned professionals. How are we going to find teenagers who are up to this task? Hester assured me that the talent was here, and I very much trust her professional opinion, so onto the auditions and casting.
To say that I was impressed by the talented students that auditioned for us is an understatement; their talent was immense. Not only did the young actors all sing beautifully, but I also had them do several different improvisational movement exercises. Every young actor in the room gave it their all. No eyes rolling, no giggling — none of the things that you would expect from a group of 13 to 17 year-olds.
The second piece of the puzzle: the Design.
I don’t exactly remember when I got the idea of doing the show a la “player’s theatre,” meaning that with the help of a few tables and chairs and ladders and sticks, the actors would move the furniture and transform the space into the many different locations in the play.
The first production meeting that I had with the creative team was done over the phone. All the creative team in Naples, and me in Boca Raton. After all the introductions, I jumped right into my concept for the play. “So, I am wanting to do the entire show just on a few different level platforms and only using a minimal amount of furniture, costumes and props. Just some sticks and ladders and one or two little costume pieces for each actor. What do you think?” The other end of the phone was silent. I am sure that they were thinking “What? Les Mis should be big and grand and lavish!” But, being the wonderful professionals that they are, they went along with my crazy concept. I must give a special shout-out to the creative team. I can honestly say that I have never worked with a more talented and creative and NICE group of people.
Going into the rehearsal process was very exciting, but once again, will the actors be “all in” with my crazy ideas for Les Mis? We talked a lot about my concept and that we are making “our version” of the show. “I am a creator, not a re-creator. I am asking you to be actors, not re-enactors.” After that, everyone was “all in”; the excitement of not only getting to do Les Mis, but getting to do our very own version (not some copy of productions that they saw on YouTube) was very exciting for our young thespians.
Long sticks became not only the pickaxes for the prisoners but also the rifles at the barricade. The actors are the gate that goes into Jean Valjean’s garden, they are the bridge that Javert (spoilers!) plunges to his death from and the water that swallows him up. They assemble and disassembled the barricade in real time; they transform the stage.
Of course, every director wants to have a good “product”, but more than anything I wanted my actors to have “ownership” of this production. Not just proud of being in the show but also proud of helping to create the show. Bringing their ideas and concepts to “How do we make a bunch of chairs and ladders look like a sewer?”
One of my favorite parts of being a theatre director and choreographer is to “pay it forward” to the next generation. I challenged my actors on this project to bring their “whole self” to the room everyday and they more than exceeded my hopes. This is an exceptional group of young people. Not only are they incredibly talented, more importantly, they are wonderful, loving, creative, and caring individuals. I am over-the-moon thrilled with our final “product,” but I am equally pleased with the wonderful process by which we got there.
I hope that you get a chance to see this exceptional group of young people and our production of Les Misérables at Gulfshore Playhouse.
Les Misérables plays through August 7-10th at 7PM and August 9th at 2PM. Tickets are just $20. To purchase, call 239-213-3058.