Raising a razed France

Les Miserables set underway

The flat stage of the Francis Comstock Theatre has been replaced by a towering, wooden structure, crawling with scene shop workers.

Steve Johnson, the play’s technical director, likes with how the construction is going.

“We’ve got things in place pretty well ahead of schedule, actually,” Johnson said.

Christian Boy, the sets designer has also been pleased with the set development. He has his philosophy on the timeliness of set construction. “It has to do with how closely the actors and the designer work together,” Boy said, “The actors can only go so far in rehearsals without the set.”

For Sally Story, the director of the production, the early development is a happy surprise. “I’m used to working on a set either the week or the weekend before performances,” Story said.

The cast of Les Miserables is a large one, with over 40 members, so there are a lot of bodies to find places for. This means multiple levels are a big help. But to find the middle ground between efficiency and style can be a challenge. “Set designs aren’t always just making the stage pretty,” Boy said. And despite the large amount of cast members that swarm the stage most of the play, the set is smaller than it could have been. “This was an artistic choice that I made to make the environment more crowded,” Boy said. “To make the production look tighter.”

And the actors are taking to their new set with excitement and vigor. “The blocking has worked out pretty good with the set in place,” Sally said. “There’s a lot of stuff on it (the actors) can work with.”

Despite it being in its first stages, the structure is already intriguing. With multiple levels of platforms, stairs going every which way, trap doors and fog machines, its entertaining to merely look at. One can only imagine what it will be like to see the cast interact with such a grande playground.

However, having the set up so early can pose a challenge for those building it. Since it is still relatively early, the plans are still going through changes. This means that the set pieces need to be stable enough for the actors, but also need to be easily adjusted. “A lot of things change,” Johnson said, “I have to be very flexible with how I have to approach things.”

In lieu of the fact that the production itself is incredibly intricate, the set is relatively simple.“The most difficult part is pretty much done, which was getting all the platforms and stairs up,” said  student and scene shop worker Collette Hagen.

So far, the set has four sets of stairs, a bridge and platforms that are as high as ten feet. There will also be a promenade that sits on the theatre’s lift.

For Boy, the structure is just as he imagined it would be and the process couldn’t be going smoother. “It will look just like my model,” Boy said. The model he is referring to is now on display in the theatre lobby and is an integral part of the designing process. Since the model is finished before construction even begins, there is a clear vision of how the set needs to fit together. “We solve all of the problems in cardboard and balsa wood before we start doing it on stage.”

Johnson is particularly excited about a few set pieces- the trap doors. Two holes were put in the floor gratings with one being a trap door. “It’s going to create some really neat light effects,” Johnson said, “and some really cool fog effects as well.”

Boy has some set pieces that he is looking forward too also, but he was less inclined to hint at them. “There’s a great risk about one of the choices we’ve made scenically,” Boy said,  “but I’m not going to give it away because its a surprise.”

With the structures in place mirroring what the designer had intended, everything seems to be falling into place for the Les Miserables cast and crew.

“Christian created a really interesting and motivating stage picture,” Story said. And its a stage picture that is continuing to grow and change. The set has yet to be painted, the lights have yet to be hung and the costumes have yet to be finished. It all has to come together for the performances, which will take place Nov. 13 – 22.

This article was submitted by Emily Latinen, contributing writer.

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