Friday, November 7, 2014

Ten Fun Facts about A Christmas Carol

1. Marley was alive: to begin with.
As referenced in Michael Patrick Hearn's The Annotated Christmas Carol, Dickens attended the same St. Patrick's Day party as one Dr. Miles Marley. Knowing Dickens' interest in unusual names, Dr. Marley remarked upon his own unusual surname. Dickens' reply: "Your name will be a household word before the year is out."

2. It only took six weeks to write.  
Dickens started writing obsessively in October 1843 and finished his novella at the end of November--just in time for Christmas. If you look at our production calendar for the show, we've had almost the same amount of time to mount this production!
3. Dickens roamed the streets during that time.
Dickens sporadically laughed and wept during the writing process and would take extremely long evening walks through London "when all sober folks had gone to bed."  

4. It was the first and last of his writings that Dickens read publicly.

Dickens was one of the first famous writers to give public readings. His first reading was of A Christmas Carol. It took place in 1853 in Birmingham, England for a gathering of 2000 spectators. When his health began to deteriorate 17 years later, Dickens gave his last public reading of A Christmas Carol at St. James' Hall in Piccadilly. He died three months later.

5. Dickens loved to perform.
Charles Dickens created a prompt book of A Christmas Carol for public readings. He would scribble notes about how to deliver the lines and "perform" these readings just like an actor on the stage. The only known prompt copy of A Christmas Carol is owned by the Berg Collection of English and American literature at the New York Public Library. 

6. He had some strange performance rituals. 
Before his readings, Dickens would drink two tablespoons of rum with cream for breakfast. Later, he would have a pint of champagne, and just before the performance, he would drink a sherry with a raw egg beaten into it. During the reading he would sip beef tea and would have soup just before bed. 

7. Fan is Scrooge's sister--and Dickens'. 
Scrooge's sister's name is Fan. According to Hearn's The Annotated Christmas Carol, Fanny was the name of Scrooge's older (and favorite) sister. 
8. Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas?
Though it was more common to say "Happy Christmas," Dickens repeats the phrase "Merry Christmas" throughout A Christmas Carol. When Dickens' novella became wildly successful, the phrase "Merry Christmas" was popularized and became a standard Christmas greeting.

9. It quickly jumped from page to stage.
Only six weeks after its publication, A Christmas Carol was adapted by Edward Stirling for the London stage. It then transferred to New York's Park Theatre. 
10. It was an inspiration to Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer of Treasure Island.
After reading the book in 1847, Stevenson wrote, "I want to go out and comfort someone; I shall never listen to the nonsense they tell one about not giving money - I shall give money; not that I haven't done so always, but I shall do it with a high hand now." We certainly hope that our production is just as inspiring! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

One day nearer to opening!

We began our journey on May 28 with our first cast meeting. Less than two months later, we're getting ready to open! It's been a fantastic journey and will only get better from here.

This past weekend was tech rehearsal, the longest and most challenging part of the process. We had a good show to begin with: a great cast full of talented and dedicated actors to bring the characters off the page. But to make a good show a great show, to bring the story to life, requires much more than just the people singing and dancing.

A great show needs great music, and the Les Misérables orchestra is nothing short of phenomenal. From the harp to the piccolo, from the French horn to the recorder, from the cello to that oboe solo, the orchestra drives the show with airy lullabies and fierce beats. 

Now that we have a great show, the final elements to produce the epic wonder of Les Misérables are the lighting and sound. Gunshots, smoke, blazing lights. The world of these characters comes to life in the atmosphere surrounding them. The burning days in Paris, the cool garden night, the shadowy winter woods are constructed all by intricately designed lighting.

The lights, sounds, and orchestrations of Les Misérables ensnare the senses and catapult the classic novel into an almost tangible experience of love, sacrifice, and atonement. But don't just take my word for it. Come see for yourself!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Cockade Pin

Perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of Les Misérables is the cockade rosette pin that the Friends of the ABC wear in the battle. They're very famous and sell like hotcakes on Etsy. But what exactly do they mean? The blue, white, and red are clearly the colors of the French flag, but the symbolism goes far deeper than stripes on a flying rectangle. 

The cockades date all the way back to the 17th Century as an identification for the various military forces in Europe. Each soldier was in charge of his own uniform and because there were no regulations on attire, many soldiers died in friendly fire. Cockades were pinned on the hats and jackets of the soldiers to identify themselves amongst each other.

By the time the first French Revolution came about, the cockade was symbolic of the people's movement. The blue and red were the regional colors of Paris; the white was the color of the king. Louis XVI pinned on of them on his lapel to show his support. Of course, the gesture was mostly for show, but those who wore the pins were thought to be followers of the cause. As the years rolled by, the cockade became an emblem of France itself. People throughout the country wore them in support of France, regardless of their affiliation. They began to appear in other forms, too, such as decoration on women's shoes.

By the time the June Rebellion came about, the tricolor pin became a symbol of the Republic. The wearers rejected the current regime and stood for "the world they longed to see." Though Enjolras and his friends took these pins to be a pledge of brotherhood, those who didn't adorn themselves with the badges lived in fear. With revolution comes bloodshed and death. The revolutionaries were viewed as dangerous radicals that threatened treason and terrorism. Think of it as our modern symbol for anarchy: with the promise of change comes the promise of chaos. Equality comes at a cost, which could destroy the lives of the students, their families, and anyone else caught in the crossfire. That's truly the heart of our barricade boys and their fight for justice and equality: freedom at the price of freedom. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Combat Weekend

It was a busy weekend for the cast of Les Misérables. Not only did this talented group of individuals make a surprise appearance at the Midsummer Arts Faire with a performance of "One Day More," but many spent the days learning fight choreography.

Les Misérables is a very combat-intensive production. Anything involving a slap, a fall, or a teenager dying has to be careful blocked by a professional fight choreographer. Steve Looten, Jr. spent Friday night and most of Saturday teaching various members of the cast how to fall, punch, fire a gun, carry a fallen comrade, tie up a police officer, and even die safely and in the most picturesque way possible. 

Arguably some of the biggest and most challenging parts of the story to block are the battles at the barricade. The barricade boys spent most of their morning on these scenes and were joined in the afternoon by some of the girls to finish the last two battles. The way Steve has blocked these fights is comparable to a machine: each Friend and each girl is a singular piece of an intricate design. While one Friend is firing, another is reloading. Girls are tending to wounds and switching out guns. Each person does their part with such commitment to drive this machine, you have to wonder for a moment if this will be the production where the good guys win.

Of course, we all know there's no such thing as a happy Les Mis. Everyone at the barricade must fall. While it could just be every man for himself and "just die when the spirit moves you," Steve planned out the specifics of each and every death to give purpose and meaning to the bloodshed. Without giving too much away, be sure to watch how, when, and where each of the Friends is shot. You might find some poetic and distressing-in-the-good-way Easter eggs!

Monday, June 23, 2014

ABC 123, or How to Identify the Barricade Boys

Joly and Feuilly and Prouvaire, oh my! The Friends of the ABC (affectionately known as the Barricade Boys) are a major part of this grand epic. In fact, one half of the second act is set at the barricades. Yet it's hard to tell the difference between Combferre and Courfeyrac, Joly and Jehan, and Bahorel and Bossuet when they're all running around looking for scrap furniture. Even fans of the novel may have a hard time remembering who's who. Fear no longer, for we've provided a quick guide to identifying the Friends.

Enjolras: Leader of the Friends. Emphatic and charming, but "capable of being terrible." He is "angelically handsome," ambitious, resolute, highly-political, and fiercely loyal to his homeland. 

  • Hugo's description: "To see the thoughtful light shining in his eyes, you would have thought that he had already, in a previous life, lived through the apocalypse of the revolution."
  • Memorable quote: "The day will come, citizens, when all will be concord, harmony, light, joy and life; it will come, and it is in order that it may come that we are about to die."
Grantaire: Nihilistic, drunk, and cynical, he only joined the Friends out of his admiration, love, and veneration for Enjolras. His sarcasm and poor attitude irritate Enjolras, who holds very little respect for Grantaire. The values of the Friends hold no meaning for him until the very end, when he declares his belief in the Republic and dies with Enjolras. He signs his notes "R" as a play on his name: "gran" means "big" in French, and the letter "r" is pronounced "air." "Grantaire" would roughly mean "big r" in French.
  • Hugo's description: "Grantaire, in whom doubt lurked, loved to see faith soar in Enjolras."
  • Memorable quote: “Gentlemen of the human race, I say to hell with the lot of you.” 
Combeferre: Moral compass and right-hand man of Enjolras. He is "The Guide" of the Friends, keeping watch over the other members and favoring peaceful education over violence. Fights for the rights of all mankind, rather than simply the rights of the French. A medical student, scholar, and philosopher. 
  • Hugo's description: "Combeferre was as gentle as Enjolras was severe from native innocence."
  • Memorable quote: "There are people who observe the rules of honor the way you and I observe the stars - from afar."
Courfeyrac: The center of the group. The most personable of the Friends and Marius's bestie. Charming and promiscuous, his heart holds the barricade boys together. 
  • Hugo's description: "The others gave out more light, he gave out more warmth."
  • Memorable quote: "I've just seen Marius' new hat and new coat and Marius in them...he looked a complete ninny."
Feuilly: A lower-class orphan. Generous and pragmatic. The only Friend that isn't a student, he works as a fan maker. He taught himself to read and write, adopting the people of France as his family. Entirely self-educated, he studies the governments of other oppressed nations, especially Poland. 
  • Hugo's description: "He did not want there to be a single person on earth without a motherland."
  • Memorable quote: "Does anybody understand these men who promised to join us, and took an oath to help us, and who were bound to it in honor, and who are our generals, and who abandon us!"
Joly: Medical student and, ironically, hypochondriac. Believes in outrageous and unorthodox treatments such as magnetic current therapy. Sagacious and by far the happiest of the Friends. Often found checking his vital signs or the color of his tongue in a mirror. Best friend of Lesgles.
  • Hugo's description: "He was the cheeriest of the lot."
  • Memorable quote: "Peace is happiness digesting."
Jean Prouvaire: A Romantic scholar with a passion for language and poetry. Joined the Friends because of his literary passion rather than political passion. Also goes by Jehan because it fits into poetry better than Jean Prouvaire.
  • Hugo's description: "He liked to stroll through fields of wild oats and cornflowers and was almost as involved with clouds as he was with events."
  • Memorable quote: "Long live France!  Long live the future!"
Lesgles: Law student and the oldest of the Friends. Also goes by Bossuet. Upper-class but notoriously unlucky, as he lost all his money and started balding at age twenty-five. Possesses a grand sense of humor and sarcastic wit. Best friend of Joly.
  • Hugo's description: "His specialty was not to succeed in anything. As an offset, he laughed at everything."
  • Memorable quote: "When a man is as much in love as a tiger, the least that he can do is to fight like a lion."
Bahorel: A lower-class law student not featured in the musical. Though he studied law for eleven years, he had no intention of becoming a lawyer. Bold, brash, generous, and much wiser than he led his friends to believe. 
  • Hugo's description: "Bahorel was a good-natured mortal who kept bad company."
  • Memorable quote: "They are peasants and not bourgeois; that is the reason they are intelligent."

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Real Lovely Ladies

One of the catchiest earworms of Les Misérables is "Lovely Ladies," a song inspired by the French ladies of the night. It's a dismal life for women, made even more tragic by the final refrain of the song after several jaunty, humorous verses. Today, we have a very different view of this career, but what many don't realize is just how big and abysmal this business is.

Three Classes

In 1823 France, there were actually three different types of prostitutes: the courtesans, the lorettes, and the streetwalkers. Each of these women held various positions in their field and were treated very differently in terms of monetary value and the level of respect they were given. 

The highest level of prostitution was home to the courtesans. Described as "grand dames of commercial sex," these women were usually mistresses of married men who chose their own lovers to climb the social ladder. Courtesans were generally well-respected women and many of them even had small jobs. They were treated like prized possessions, earning a good pay and dressing in the finest clothes. There was rarely any abuse of courtesans; they were like porcelain dolls to be loved and treasured. They were within the confines of the law and would never have to resort to streetwalking. 

The Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV

The second tier belonged to the lorettes, another eloquent word that glamorizes the profession into something elegant and respectable. In many ways, lorettes were similar to courtesans, sharing many of the same perks. Lorettes were often decorated in expensive gowns and jewels, but because they themselves were bourgeois or aristocratic. In fact, no respectable man would introduce his lorette to his family. This wasn't a honorable class, kept much more discreet than the courtesans (who were often acquainted with their lovers' wives). Lorettes could be thought of as an accessory or a decoration, to be brought out on occasion for a bit of fun. Interestingly, lorettes were also legal in France. 

A lorette, lounging with her lover

Streetwalkers scraped the bottom of the barrel. Women like our lovely ladies and Fantine fell into this category. Most of these women didn't choose this lifestyle and ended up here as a last resort means of survival. Some, like Fantine, had families to support; some had been abandoned and only wanted a warm bed to stay in for the night. These women were lucky if they even had clothing to shelter them from the elements. They made about one sous per customer (compared to courtesans who might make 15-20 or lorettes who made 5-10). Instead of one man, they might see hundreds of men in their careers, men who would beat them and leave them for dead. Streetwalking was considered illegal if the women were unregistered at a specific brothel. Hanging out under the docks, though a decently organized operation, would not have been considered an official organization and therefore punishable. 

A group of rather well-dressed prostitutes propositioning men 

Ladies and the Law

All brothels were to be registered with the law in Paris and were expected to follow certain codes of conduct. Many times, the police would be called to both registered and unregistered brothels for complaints of noise and petty crimes. Ironically, most of the time, the men were far more at fault than any of the women. Many were abused, raped, and sometimes even murdered. Yet the police would come and take the ladies into custody for rule-breaking (contravention) and illness. Having venereal diseases was a crime as a prostitute for endangering the health of men who may spread it to their wives or other people. The sad fact is that the majority of these women developed diseases from the men, not the men from the women. Thousands of women were arrested under these charges. Most other crimes, like Fantine's attack on Bamatabois, would be considered contravention, an umbrella term for "crimes against people."

Once arrested, the Prefecture of Police would interrogate the prostitutes and decide, based on their circumstances, whether to free them or confine them to jail. The ladies would wait in holding for a period of one to two days to await release or imprisonment. If a prostitute was sent to prison, it was a facility specifically for prostitutes. In this facility, the women were actually decently provided for. They were given a good portion of food, including a piece and a half of bread, a small cup of soup, and four ounces of meat or starchy vegetables. They were rarely abused in prison and even had a courtyard they could visit three times a day. The women were put to work making clothes or other supplies for soldiers, cleaning, and cooking. Guards at these prisons weren't overly hard on the women because prostitution generally wasn't a very violent crime and they did their allotted share of work. For some of these women, the four to five months they spent safely in a "warm" bed with plenty to eat would be the best care they would ever receive. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Road So Far

Seven weeks doesn't seem like a lot of time to put on a musical as fantastical and challenging as Les Misérables. The first three days, we did table work and read the script aloud. It wasn't until Monday, June 2 that we actually started to block our musical numbers. It's overwhelming to think about. When you say "seven weeks," it seems like forever until you look at the schedule and see that you're booked almost every week night. It's a thrill, though, and it raises the stakes even higher. Everything has to keep building and growing in preparation for that opening night. You can't lose steam. The days pass more and more quickly until suddenly it dawns upon you that next Monday, our guest actor Joe Tokarz arrives.

So what have we done so far? The first week was music rehearsal. We worked glorious harmonies and sang through the full extent of the show. In the next week alone, most of Act I was staged. We ran (or rather, stumbled merrily along) through this entire act on Friday night; this cast should be extremely proud of the work we've done. We couldn't have done it without the help of our wonderful production team.

The energy was palpable that night. Tensions were high, of course, but everyone brought their A-Game to the table. It was a long night, but we pulled through. The transitions weren't seamless and we may have tripped over our own feet a couple of times, but we worked through it. Some of the numbers weren't even blocked yet, but the actors powered through them on artistic instinct. We're doing it all again this week, staging Act II and running it on Friday, as well. By June 23 when Mr. Tokarz arrives, we'll be ready to welcome him in with an excellent foundation.

We still have a long way to go before we're ready to open, but seeing how much effort and passion the production team and the actors are putting in is inspiring. Even though the hours are long and the work isn't easy, there's no business like show business. (Wrong musical, I know.)