I met a trio of young actors this summer who’ll be giving their last performance in “Les Misérables” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this weekend. I often call time spent talking with them to mind when naysayers neglect to recognize the role of arts and culture in readying kids for real life.
These youth — Britton Jeffrey Gardner (Gavroche), Sadi Weir (Young Cosette) and Corie Leigh Coash (Young Eponine/Ensemble) — are living proof that time spent with literature, and the theater that flows from it, leads to profound understandings of self, others and society.
Gardner recalls getting involved with the festival’s “Playmakers” program when he was just six years old, and says his interests outside of theater include soccer and cello. Gardner plays in the school orchestra and participates in Boy Scouts. He describes Shakespeare as “such a great writer,” and marvels that the things he wrote about were happening many hundreds of years ago.
He’s read Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and says “this whole story happens all the time.” Everything Hugo said about the world is true, Gardner told me. “People in power abuse it,” explains Gardner, “and make those not in power miserable.” For Gardner, “Les Misérables” is a good example of what can happen when one group in society takes advantage of others.
Gardner finds the music for “Les Misérables” especially moving, and feels the work is a “touching” story. “It’s about a person with no choice but to steal a piece of bread,” says Gardner. “But he becomes a good man, transformed because a bishop treats him like any other person.”
Gardner describes Gavroche as “a strong character,” noting that “he’s lived through a lot of things.” In the book, observes Gardner, Gavroche is the son of ill-tempered innkeepers named Thénardier. Knowing that even college graduates sometimes stumble when asked to compare various versions of classic tales, I’m struck by Gardner’s insights and his gift for sharing them.
Like Gardner, Coash plays soccer and enjoys making music. She participates in Girl Scouts, and plays both piano and guitar. Coash credits Shakespeare with fueling her imagination, adding that “his stories are amazing.” Her favorite characters include Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a sprite she describes as “mischevious and fun.”
Coash describes her Les Misérables character as “a snotty, mean girl who shoves people and stands on tables,” but notes that Eponine gets nicer as she gets older. “She loves this guy but he’ll never love her back,” explains Coash. “And she never went to school.” Coash describes performing in Les Misérables as “a great learning experience” and says theater “makes you open up and blossom” instead of being shy.
Gardner describes fellow Les Misérables cast members as “nice” and Coash agrees that they’re all “very kind.” They’re great mentors, says Coash, and always happy to help with questions. Weir says “that’s just fun” when asked what it’s like to work with all the older, more experienced actors.
“I like to dance a lot,” says Weir. “All styles.” She hadn’t yet read Hugo’s novel when we spoke, but noted that she wants to. Still, she’s got a better grasp of the material than plenty of grown-ups. Weir describes her character as “very sad and miserable,” adding that young Cosette is threatened a lot, made to work and forced to sleep in a basement.
“Les Misérables” is filled with life stories, says Weir. “It describes a lot of life lessons.” Weir praises Shakespeare for being “very creative” and says her favorite Shakespeare works include “Romeo and Juliet.” She hopes to do more theater, noting that it “helps to get people’s imagination going.”
Though the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of “Les Misérables” ends this weekend as their fall season comes to a close, tickets for 2013 performances are already available — and shows like “Peter and the Starcatcher” are likely to sell out just as quickly as “Les Misérables.” Click here to explore their 2013 line-up, which includes four Shakespeare works, “12 Angry Men” and more.
Also watch for Utah Shakespeare Festival news of upcoming children’s auditions, classes (for youth, teachers, directors and playgoers) and next fall’s Shakespeare competition for students — all places where literature meets life.
Note: The Utah Shakespeare Festival tour of “Romeo and Juliet” hits Higley Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2013 (target audience is grades 7-12). Click here for school show and ticket information.
Coming up: Fun with Falstaff, A “Twilight” tale, Ode to thespians