Jean Valjean, with all due respect, had some bad days. But he never knew what it’s like to have to abandon a high school musical performance on the threshold of opening night because of a sudden global pandemic.
Valjean and the other characters from Les Misérables are a big part of the response to last spring’s colossal disappointment at Bedford High School.
Preparations are in high gear at the high school for a filmed version of the sung-through musical Les Misérables (school edition), by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. The decision was made early to bypass live performances, and that turned out to be the right call, as Covid-19 protocols are still in place.
So Les Misérables will be broadcast via streaming to all ticket-holders on May 21 and 22. A website address for ticket availability will be announced.
The school edition, directed by Katrina Faulstich, is a shorter version of the original show, with adjustments made to the length and vocal pitch of several songs to support younger voices more appropriately
Faulstich, choral and theatre director at BHS as well as at John Glenn Middle School, said the decision to go with the filmed musical has been a home run.
“The kids have loved that we are doing something,” Faulstich said. “Everything in their lives is different right now. The fact that they can be hanging out after school with their friends and working on this giant project together — even though it’s not normal, it has brought a lot of normalcy back to their lives.”
Dozens of students are involved — more than 40 in the cast, 12 musicians, and about 20 on the crew, with tasks unlike those of their predecessors, such as designing backgrounds and filming.
The director noted that the licensing company used by the high school “is allowing for fully- recorded shows like this for a certain number of titles.”
She said she knows of no other schools in the area who are presenting their spring musical through these media. “It’s a huge project,” she acknowledged. “The video aspect I think is something that I haven’t heard any school in the area trying to do.” Faulstich pointed out that the fall play was shared with the community using the same technology
“We are fully recording everything. None of it will be live,” Faulstich explained. “We will upload the video to a streaming host and it will be streamed during the times that it’s airing. My goal is to have everything filmed by the start of vacation.”
“I’m learning new things every day,” the director said. For example, she now knows how to employ Soundtrap, a web-based program that allows different people to record from different places and collaborate.
Through January and February, students interacted using a Zoom platform “where students can remotely collaborate with each other in a recording program. We set up projects for every song and the students contributed their vocals. The pit students contributed their instruments.”
Faulstich reported that the musical is nearing completion, fully remote. Vocals are almost all recorded and the pit musicians are right behind. Jim Felker, band director, and a team of students are mixing the vocals and eventually will mix voices and the instruments, she said.
(Live singing is now permitted in schools – but under state regulations, participants have to be at least 10 feet apart.)
Now other students are filming scenes inside and out — but nothing inside the auditorium. Much of the video is based in a small studio with a “green screen.” That permits the insertion of virtual backgrounds, which students are designing.
Faulstich said the outdoor locations have to feature scenery that “doesn’t look like 2021 in Bedford. Maybe they could be 18th century France.” Locales that will be seen are the high school courtyard and other areas around the campus with a natural background; the meadow at Chip-In Farm; and behind the First Church of Christ, Congregational. Being outdoors “makes it safer for more students,” she said.
Students are editing various scenes, the director said – “some kids have done a lot of video editing before. We are putting it all together and will drop the fully mixed recordings into the video to make a movie.”
“All of the acting is purely physical acting,” Faulstich continued. The “singing” is actually “lip-sync. Now we’re adding the visual to the audio that has been recorded.” In most of the scenes with more than one participant, the actors will be wearing masks.
“A lot of the set is being designed in Photoshop and natural scenes,” Faulstich said. “The only thing we really have to make is the barricade, which we will build in the courtyard.” Handling the costuming is BHS social studies teacher Elizabeth Goetschius, the director said, assisted by her sister Cate Goetschius, an experienced theater dresser.
“I hope we get as many or more watching than we would at a usual musical,” Faulstich commented.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763