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Keyano Theatre Company members share their Les Misérables experience

For those of our community members who saw Les Misérables by Keyano Theatre Company at Keyano College in Fort McMurray they can truly understand the depth and emotion behind it, not just from the characters, but from the actors and the team on and off stage. The production ran from February 13 to 23, 2014 and was enjoyed by over 4,000 patrons. Cast member Russell Thomas blogged about the process of putting the show together in his “To the Barricades” blog series. What you will read below are the reflections about the impact this experience had on some of the participants. In some cases, it was life-changing. In all cases, it was deeply moving, incredibly valuable and absolutely unforgettable.

Jonathan Bowers, Lesgles Bittersweet.

It’s a word that I’ve seen thrown around a lot in the last few days, and it’s the only word I can think of that truly expresses how I feel at the end of this incredible journey we’ve all undertaken.

To think that just a scant couple months ago we were all getting geared up for our first rehearsal for Les Mis is kind of mind boggling. So much has happened in such a short period of time that it seems like it’s come and gone in the blink of an eye, and yet the memories we’ve all made together will last a lifetime. I’ve been involved in theatrical productions before, but nothing ever on the scale and the scope of Les Mis, and I don’t think that anything will ever truly compare to this.

Being a relative newcomer to Fort McMurray, having only moved up here at the beginning of May, I was a bit shocked and surprised when I learned that the local theatre company was undertaking such a large-scale production. I’d never seen Les Mis, or even read the book, but I knew that it was Big. Capital B Big. And it was a perfect opportunity to get involved in the community, to give back to a city that had already given me so much in the way of a new lease on life and a fresh start, so I figured why not? It definitely beat sitting at home in front of the TV every night.

I never would have thought that I would be in for such a wild ride, but I can only say I’m both grateful and humbled to have been a part of it.

Meeting new people has been one of the driving forces in my life lately, and I haven’t been disappointed with being a part of Les Mis. Over the course of the show I feel as though the members of the cast and crew have become one big extended family, complete with its own internal dynamics, groups, cliques, and hiccups. Having to leave it all behind now that the show is over is going to leave a void in my life that I hadn’t realized was slowly being filled up, and it’s heartbreaking to think that I won’t see everyone all in one spot again. I have no doubt that I’ll continue the friendships I’ve made over the course of the show, but still...

To be completely honest I’ve never really thought of myself as a very social person. I keep my thoughts to myself most of the time, being more comfortable living in my head and observing the world around me. That being said there was a moment, before the final show when the entire cast and crew had gathered for a pizza party, that I stood off to one side looking on, just observing, taking it all in. And it hit me.

This was the last time I’d see you all together.

It was chaos, in its own unique way; small groups of people sitting, eating, talking, laughing, children running everywhere screaming and laughing and just being kids, parents trying to corral them, others looking on, smiling, trying to help, enjoying the moment. It was perfect, and it was beautiful, and it was sad, all at the same time. Because this moment, these people, in this place...

It would never happen again.

It would be truly impossible to describe or to put into words the bond we’ve all shared through an experience like this. The only way to truly understand would be to experience it for yourself. That final moment before we went our separate ways to prepare for the final show is one I will never forget.

For my part, I’ll take away fond memories, unforgettable acquaintances and new friendships. Sharing in all of your struggles, challenges, triumphs and failures, has been one of the greatest pleasures and honors I could ever ask for. There are so many tales to tell from this journey that I wouldn’t even know where to begin telling them all.

But every beginning has an end.

The inn won’t open today.

The barricades will no longer be built.

The guns have fallen silent for the last time.

My friends, my friends, don’t ask me what it all was for.

We already know.

Diane Zundel – Mother to Emma Zundel, Children’s Ensemble

I wish to thank all the cast and crew of Les Mis. You not only put on a moving and wonderful show but it has been a pleasure to hear about all the behind the scenes activities that go on while putting on such a production. My daughter has enjoyed every minute of the process and we have seen her grow and mature as a result. This was her first experience with this type of performance and one of this calibre. She is totally hooked! I think what has impressed me the most though, is how close the cast and production team have become. This has become her family away from home. It was wonderful to hear, not only about her new friends amongst the younger members of the cast, but also amongst the adults. The “warm and fuzzy” letter she received reduced me to tears. They were words that every parent loves to hear about their child but also words that build up people and make them feel valued and special. All of you are very special people indeed. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for making this such an amazing experience.

Kelli Northrup, Ensemble

It’s an hour before we all join together for the last time in the rehearsal hall, preparing for many laughs, tears and stories of our journeys from the beginning of this chapter till now. Slowly our story unfolded, not only from our libretto but from our personal lives as well. Learning about, not only the character we play on stage, but the character we display everyday in our ordinary yet extraordinary lives that brought us all together. Today it may seem like this chapter has come to an end bringing new developments and journeys. What we take from this continual story is new lasting friendships, new mindsets from our time together and joy. This has been such an incredible experience to see how beautiful friendship is, feeling the sense that when someone is having a difficult day we are all there supporting. We all respect one another: a pat on the back, words of encouragement or even a smile in the busy bustle of the hallway can make an exhausting day all the better! I’ll take away many experiences being the somewhat quiet girl who drinks in all that is around her. Thankful for Keyano Theatre and everyone who has put many exhausting hours into this musical not by what it has given me, but who I was able to share this experience with.

Rhiannon Murphy, Children’s Ensemble

It has been an honour to be in a big production like this and to have a part. All of the hard work we’ve done paid off. It was amazing! I met a lot of new friends and I hope I can be in another show and meet even more friends. Everyone who I’ve met is amazing and it was a great experience to be there. If I was watching from the audience I would have been wishing I was on stage. Everyone was sweet and very helpful and I had a lot of fun. The costume designer, Tiffany, always let me help her and she was super nice. The set was spectacular and backstage is so much fun. There were lots of quick changes going on and we always helped each other. There was a secret gift giver who left gifts for all of the cast. And there were other people who just gave gifts. Les Mis was a great production. I hope I can be in another big production again. I am sad because I am going to miss everyone but I’m happy I met them. I am so happy that I tried out for Les Mis. I hope everybody who reads this saw the show and that you really loved it.

Jamie Manship, Bamatabois/Jean Prouvaire

A positive experience from beginning to end.

When we first thought of moving to Fort McMurray it was only to get out of debt and we didn’t come. The second time we thought about coming it was to make a difference in this community and we made the leap. It’s amazing how the desire and actions to make a difference in your community will actually make a difference in you. For instance, I have taken more things off my bucket list in the glorious three years of being in Fort McMurray than the previous 36 years on this earth. Anyone who has a problem with Fort McMurray hasn’t honestly engaged with the great people or been involved in any of the fantastic organizations like Keyano Theatre that exist in the Best Place to Live in Canada.

When I auditioned for Les Misérables it was to fulfill a dream of being in a large production. In the process I have watched us grow closer as a production and as group to the level of family. I am truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to share these moments and memories with a fantastic group of people on this adventure.

After tonight we will go our separate ways, but we will always cherish our memories because they define us.

Chuck Smith, Bishop of Digne

On closing night, with each scene, with each set change, or with each song, I felt a twinge. Like the last time I sang “You forgot I gave these also” and struggled with Crystal Milburn to take the candle sticks. The look in her face each time we struggled with those candlesticks was precious. Or the last time I placed my hand on Tim Heggie’s chest as I sang “I have bought your soul for God.” Or the last time I told April Bolen the word of the day. I think it was “casual”. Or there last time Jannelle Leask and I waltzed in the hall backstage. Or the last time I fell into the arms of Krista Balsom at the end of the “Innkeeper’s” song. Or the last time Adam Zacharias gave me all his money at the Docks. Or the last time Elizabeth Wells and I marched to downstage centre to lead the dance in “One Day More”. Thank you Elizabeth for helping me, a non dancer, look good. Or when I walked up behind Misty Oakes before she went on stage, touched her shoulder and said “Go get em like you can”. Or behind the scene when I watched Greg Lupul, Sheldon Dahl and the amazing Reese Stanley, fall off the top of the platform into the protective arms of Allison Barry and Jennifer Townsend. I especially loved the victory dance Reese did after each fall. Or the scene change Norm Sutton and I did moving Kyle Beeson (what a voice) into position, handing Kyle his cane for the scene. Or the laugh’s Russell Thomas and Terri Mort got as they hammed it up for the audience. Or the sweet sound of heaven that came from Diana Moser as she played the flute. Or the proud honouring look in Noah Heggie’s eyes as his father Tim Heggie was appreciated for his dedication and commitment. Or the extraordinary patience Claude Giroux, Susan Lexa and and Dianne Pare graced me with for all my shortcomings. Or the awesome, sensitive leadership Steph Link showered us with. Or the second and final bow we all took on closing night. I realized, the twinge I felt was like a page being torn from my life.

Our lives are a book. As we experience at the last performance, it’s like a page is torn from us and set adrift into our memories. The current pages are being filled. For me, it’s falling asleep with my new grandson on my chest. Or putting to bed another grandson, “Ben”, tickling his face and singing to him my all time favourite Irish Lullaby “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra.” Or going out for a quiet romantic dinner with my wife. In the last few days we have all set adrift the memories from our time together in Les Misérables. We are also filling new pages in our lives. And many more blank pages have yet to be discovered and written upon. My friends, my wish is, as you periodically recall the memories set adrift from our experience together, that they will be fond, encouraging, forgiving and bring a smile to your day. Never forget… “See in this a higher plan.”

Keyano Theatre Company (KTC) is a volunteer company of real people, real stories and real performances enriching the spirit of community theatre. We are committed to providing meaningful, relevant and quality entertainment. Share the experience and celebrate with us!