Photo by Patti Stokes/NWO | Northern Guilford Nighthawk Players, under the direction of Anna Smith, will perform Les Misérables this Friday and Saturday.
By PATTI STOKES
It's not the easiest musical to perform by any means and Northern Guilford High School students say the last few months of preparing for their upcoming musical performances based on the historical novel, Les Misérables, this Friday and Saturday have stretched them, at times physically and emotionally drained them, and given them opportunities to grow in ways they hadn't imagined. And, they've developed many friendships in the process.
"This has been the most difficult year of teaching I have ever experienced, but working with these kids every day has definitely been the highlight of this year," theater teacher Anna Smith and musical director told the Northwest Observer. "There is nothing like seeing a group of really diverse kids come together to tell a story like this."
Elizabeth Hyman explained "the entire idea of this show is that (almost) everyone is fighting for something." Her character, Monsieur Thénardier, however, is a lowly man who isn't fighting for anything and she notes she's nothing like him in real life.
"I think Les Mis is something a lot of people can relate to," Jennie Evans said. "The fact that a lot of these people were fighting for something that they care about so deeply, and they will stop at nothing. Lives will be taken and people will be seen for who they truly are, but I think the message, although it takes place so long ago, can still be spoken about today to make other people fight for what they believe in."
"I never thought it would be anything like this," Reagan Reece said of her first experience with performing in a musical. "It's way better than I thought it would be. You get to meet people who you never thought you would and form friendships with them, and you get to try something new.
Emily Baker, a senior, will be performing for her third and last time as a Northern Nighthawks Player.
"These people are the most welcoming, open-minded, nicest people you can meet," Baker said of her fellow performers. "It's sad for me because we're all going to different places after this."
Brett Elliott, also a senior, said it's too early to know how he will feel about his last performance at Northern - but he's predicting it will be a letdown and he'll miss the rehearsals and the friendships he's made over the last few months.
"It's going to be really weird when all the seniors go," said Brewer Baker, the musical's stage director who has memorized all the lines of the musical and sings along when she's backstage. Baker said she's been involved in the school's performances since her freshman year and during that time fellow performers have become like family.
Grey Rendleman said she was familiar with the plot of Les Misérables, but the hardest part for her and others was getting to know their character - make that characters, with an "s." Due to the cast being smaller than usual, some of the performers are juggling as many as four or five roles. Although they admit it's been a challenge, judging by their performances at the dress rehearsal on Tuesday evening, they've risen to the occasion beautifully.
For Zion Foster, the most challenging part of her performance was transitioning from another play she is simultaneously involved with, Mary Poppins, which is much more lighthearted.
Evan Thomas said keeping a straight face has been one of his greatest challenges (the subject matter of the musical is very serious) and for Shonty Manuel, she's been challenged to try to fit her vocal range to that of a man's.
Many of the performers have also been physically challenged, as evidenced by a few scrapes and bruises that lingered from one of the intense battle scenes.
Caroline Donato notes that since the musical's subject matter is so deep, a lot of people don't think about how hard it is.
"When you're doing a death scene every night, it's very emotionally draining," she said.
"It was really challenging to get kids to dig deep down inside of themselves and pull out some emotion," Smith said of her students. "That takes a great deal of vulnerability and it's hard for teenagers to break down their walls. We spent an entire day in class sharing moments in our life when we felt sadness and loss. It was heartbreaking to hear what some of these kids have been through. In the end, I feel that the cast became closer because of that experience and were able to find that more vulnerable emotional side of acting that you see on stage during many of the scenes in Act II."
Israel Carr, 11, was recruited for the performance by his older sister and said he had never acted or sung before an audience. Besides his sister, who is also performing in the musical, he feels as though he now has several other big brothers and sisters.
And for Maggie Horshok, a senior who had never sung before an audience before, landing one of the lead roles (she plays Cosette) was particularly a surprise. She admits to being a little nervous about her upcoming performance, but the support of her fellow cast members has been very encouraging over the last few months and she'll be ready when the curtains rise on Friday evening.
Anna Bell is "girl #5" in the show and is responsible for getting one of the beloved characters, Fantine, fired. She also did the makeup for all the performers and "hit all the high notes," her cast members said.
Nicole Bilodeau noted that not only was the cast physically challenged with all the action in the performance, but they were challenged to create all the sets for it. Due to budget cuts this year, theater students had to go to a new level of resourcefulness, assisted by parents and private donations.
"I chose this show because it has always been close to my heart," Smith said. "I love the messages it leaves the audience with: fight for what you believe in, stand up for people who don't have the same privileges, and most importantly, that every person's story is important and their journey challenging. What's truly amazing about this show is that it came at the perfect time - a time in America where so many people are standing up and protesting for what they believe in. I was inspired by Les Mis when I joined the teacher rally earlier this month. My poster had the outline of the barricade and it said 'Do You Hear the Teachers Sing?' Whether you agree with it or not, it's been really amazing to talk with my students about student-led protests like March for Our Lives and how it relates to the storyline in Les Mis.
want to go?
Northern Guilford Nighthawk Players will be performing "Les Misérables" in the school's auditorium, 7101 Spencer-Dixon Road in Greensboro, on June 1 at 7 p.m. and June 2 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Purchase advance tickets for $8 at www.eventbrite.com/e/les-miserables-tickets- 44381011801 or at the door for $10.