“Les Miserables,” directed by Renee Hewitt and playing now at Camelot Theatre in Talent, is a stunning production. Lasting more than three hours, with 33 cast members, the production is so powerful that you barely notice that all of the dialogue is sung.
Although she is an accomplished actor, this is Hewitt’s maiden voyage as a director. We visited at the Camelot Theatre one Sunday afternoon.
EH: How did you get such great performances from your cast?
RH: It’s such an incredible story and it is very moving. I think that I let myself be vulnerable and I let them see how much intention I have. It’s such a great cast. They’re such great people.
When people auditioned, I had them monologue solos and scenes rather than to sing them. As a performer, you monologue your song before you sing, so that you find the important words. I was adamant that acting was the most important thing.
I had a dinner for my lead actors with a friend of mine who is a counselor; he’s very good at understanding human nature. I’ve used him before when researching a part. I thought it was a great way to get my leading actors to dig deeper. There were a lot of very good questions, a lot of really good discussions and insights into why the characters are doing what they’re doing. I wanted to do that early on, just have a casual dinner, talk and discuss, and get into our characters.
I told the chorus, you are the first step in creating a world. You have to fully create that world, because it affects the other actors. When you come on stage, know where you’re coming from; know where you’re going to, and what you’re doing. Then all your fellow actors have to do is react. All acting is, is reacting; do them a favor and create the world for them so that they don’t have to try and bring it out of themselves. In this chorus each person can play up to six or seven different characters in many scenes.
EH: Tell me about the culture of Camelot Theatre.
RH: We foster a very positive environment: Thinking about other people and taking care of the other person. There’s no place in this theater for divas. The culture is a nurturing, positive environment, but there’s no brushing things aside. Things are dealt with very diplomatically, but we don’t put up with a lot. It’s a nurturing environment, but not an “anything goes” environment.
EH: What do you look for in an actor?
RH: I look for honesty. Then I look for direct-ability. I also look for a certain amount of vulnerability. In order to do things, you need to be willing to go there. Then I look for some of the technical stuff. But if someone is honest and direct-able, and in this show, can hit the notes, what more do I need?
EH: So is directing your favorite thing now?
RH: Acting’s my favorite thing. I kept saying, “Can I please go back to acting? It’s so much easier.” Next I’ll be doing “Backwards in High Heels” at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. I’m playing Ginger Roger’s mom.
Directing is so collaborative. It’s about the cast doing such a brilliant job, the orchestra, the lighting, and the sound — all those things that the audience gets to drink in and assimilate.
“Les Miserables,” starring David Gabriel, plays through Aug. 3 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave. For tickets and information, call 541-535-5250 or visit http://www.camelottheatre.org.
“Backwards in High Heels” opens Sept. 10 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. For tickets and information, contact http://www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541-488-2902.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.