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Music, Theater Departments collaborate to produce musical

Concordia College – As Concordia’s theater program kicks off November with the popular musical “Les Misérables,” cooperation between the theater and music departments becomes the key to putting on the best show possible.

Though Karen Hamilton, the musical’s vocal director, said the bridge between the theater and music departments has been building for four years, and the collaboration has become important this year as the theater takes on one of the biggest shows it has ever staged.

This year’s scheduling plan of action begins to take effect when the final week of musical rehearsals begin Nov. 10. During this week, dress rehearsal call-times begin to overlap with choir schedules. Even so, students are able to participate in choir and the musical with the arrangements. Choral conductor Dr. Michael Culloton said he used the knowledge he gained last year to make the schedules during this season flow as smoothly as possible.

Devan Luth, a senior involved in both the music department and the musical said that the scheduling does get a bit tricky.

“Once we start having dress rehearsals, it’s just been talked through with the directors, and we leave around 15 minutes early because we have to eat, and then we have to be (at the theater),” she said. “Sometimes people have to be there at 5:30 (p.m.).”

Culloton said last year was the year when the departments executed an especially smooth arrangement.

“Last year we really nailed it. We really figured it out,” he said. “Letting the students go early that whole week at 6 p.m. and then in the second week of the shows worked incredibly well.”

According to Culloton, the relationship between music and theater began four years ago when Jennifer Thomas, a Concordia graduate, became the theater director. She had a special interest in building a bridge between the two departments. In the seven years Hamilton has been working with the theater department she said those four years Thomas spent at Concordia really accelerated the relationship between music and theater.

“It didn’t used to happen.” Hamilton said of the communication between departments. “It used to be that no one was going to change their schedules. In the past four years there’s been a real spirit of cooperation between the music and the theater department.”

Sally Story, the stage director of “Les Misérables,” said both departments wish to see the production succeed, especially as students combine their talents of acting and singing.

“Theater is about collaboration, and since it’s both music and theater, we all collaborate because we’re trying to put on a good show,” she said.

Both Hamilton and Culloton agree they have seen many benefits to the both programs since that cooperation began. Now with faculty members in both departments working together on the musical, the shows improve with the attention to vocal perfection. Culloton also mentioned the benefits that the scheduling has in recruiting prospective students.

“We want to be able to tell prospective students that you can do both here. You can do theater. You can do choir and be a non-major,” he said.

The collaboration is extremely important to the current students as well. Not only do they get to participate in both choir and theater, but they also gain valuable experience they wouldn’t otherwise. Hamilton said it is important for students who are pursuing music as a major to have the experience in a musical. Making it a possibility for choir students to take part in the musical gives those students an experience so they can be better equipped take on directing or other theater-related jobs after college.

“It’s a great experience for the musicians and the singers to get the experience of a musical,” Hamilton said. “… When they go out and try and make a living in high schools or whatever, having experience playing in a pit orchestra or being in a musical is really going to help them as musicians.”

Story said she already sees the overall benefit to the show with the musicians taking part.

“What’s so different at this school than the other schools I’ve taught at is the talent, the vocal talent in particular,” she said. “These kids, holy crap, can they sing. They’re just amazing. It blows my mind.”

With the difficulty of “Les Misérables” as a musical, Hamilton said this year will be a marker in the success of the cooperation between music and theater at Concordia.

“It’s one of the most vocally demanding shows. It’s all song. There is no dialect, so [actors] don’t get any breaks. And it is very high for the men. Very high,” she said. “It’s great for the theater department to be able to pull on all the talent that is in the music department, because it’s only going to make their productions better.”

Culloton, Story, and Hamilton are all looking forward to see the ultimate benefits of their work when the performances take place Nov. 13-22.

“We decided we were ready (to do the show),” Hamilton said. “Bringing in the music department, the singers and everything, has just improved the quality. Now we are more than capable to do ‘Les Misérables.’”

This article was submitted by Ellie Boese, contributing writer.

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