By SCOTT AUST
While actors on stage get the most attention, it takes months of behind the scenes preparation to put on a production like "Les Miserables," which is set to debut Thursday night at Garden City Community College.
"It's true that the essence of the theatre is the actor and the audience, but when you have a solid scenic idea behind you — good costumes, good lighting — it just adds so much to the experience," Phil Hoke, GCCC drama director, said.
"Les Miserables" will debut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Pauline Joyce Fine Arts Building at GCCC. Three other performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Nov. 9 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10.
The show includes a 13-piece orchestra, conducted by GCCC Band Director James McCallister, 48 cast members and 14 crew members. Both students and community members contribute to the production.
Everything from set design and construction, painting, costuming and prop design and creation goes into a production.
The preparation process for "Les Miserables" began in June, when Hoke and set designer/technical director Noah McCallum sat down as a creative team and watched several versions of the production.
From there, McCallum began creating different ideas, including movable wagons with flats in front that could be arranged in different configurations depending on the circumstances.
McCallum, a Garden City freshman, said the initial creative team didn't have any experience with the play before the summer blitz of research.
"We've pretty much been constantly busy, especially since the production picked up into full swing," he said. "It is a break-neck rush to the finish line. You sacrifice sleep, weekends."
McCallum said the large amount of square footage of the sets and background flats that needed to be painted has been challenging.
McCallum also worked on designing last semester's production of "Twelfth Night," which he said was a far easier design compared to the current production.
"This set design is versatile and complex. It's almost like a storybook design. The wagons fold out and have multiple dimensions to them," he said. "It's been a huge challenge, more than I anticipated."
Hoke said there are 11 people who have been working on creating the sets and props for the play, and about four working on costumes, including lead costume designer Linzie Schneider.
"Set design is particularly challenging on this show, simply because the play takes place over 20 years," Hoke said. "We're going from a prison to the streets of Paris to a variety of other places. Just creating those circumstances is challenging."
Costuming is another challenge to find different looks for the 48 people.
"I would guess we have somewhere close to 75 different pieces," Hoke said. "Many of them Linzie made herself for the show. Several we were able to pull from stock, and a couple we did rent."
Gage Stielau, a freshman from Syracuse, plays several roles in the play and also worked on set design and prop creation. Some of the more interesting props are the muskets and pistols, which were designed and built by students out of wood and PVC pipe and will be rigged with special effects to produce a pyrotechnic flash when fired.
Stielau, who is majoring in secondary education, said he enjoys working on the carpentry involved in play production rather than things like painting the scenery. "Les Miserables" is the first big college production for Stielau.
"I just started in theatre my senior year (of high school), like a week before the play, and then I ended up getting a scholarship to come here for just the little work I did my senior year," he said.
Alexander Wilken, a Garden City drama major and master carpenter for the show, said he was involved in theatre in high school, working behind the scenes on set design. This is his third semester in the drama program at GCCC.
"The freshmen this year have been a great help," Wilken said. "For 'Twelfth Night,' we were running with a three-man group for painting and building, everything, by ourselves. Now we have nine or 11 students on the build team, so we've been able to accomplish a lot more for this show. This is a lot more dynamic."
McCallum, a drama major, has been involved in multiple community theatre productions through the Garden City Recreation Commission, as well as GCCC, since 2008. For "Les Miserables," he also is playing the role of Marius.
McCallum said his ambition is to be a professional musician one day, so being involved in all the aspects of drama is good preparation. In his spare time, he is the vocalist of local heavy metal band, Pestilence in the Flesh, which also includes Wilken. Playing a main role in a musical has been a great experience for a growing singer, he said.
"These are some really dynamic tempos and time signatures, as well as challenging keys. I've learned a lot, and I've grown considerably," he said.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 65 or older and $8 for children age 17 or younger, and tickets are available at the GCCC Fine Arts office from 7:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and from 7:15 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tickets also may be purchased as early as one hour before each show at the box office, unless the show sells out before then. For more information about tickets, call 276-9540.