The lights darkened on the historic Julia Morgan Stage and the soft buzz from jittery families and friends ceased. High school-aged actors, clad in the clothes of the 1700s and 1800s, crept onto the stage and positioned themselves amidst the blackness. In an instant, the yellow lights appeared, music began to play, and the actors, six PHS freshman among them, opened their mouths to sing.
Freshmen Claire Fraser, Ella Meil, Emily Adams, Erica Lam, Sadie Tschider, and Sebastien Suter Ternynck all acted in Berkeley Playhouse latest show for teenagers, “Les Misérables” (Les Mis). The show had four performances, with a matinee and night show on both Jan 27 and 28. The actors rehearsed three days a week since October in preparation for the shows at Julia Morgan Theater, Lam said.
“Les Mis” takes place around the time period of the French Revolution, depicting the stories and challenges of each character. Most of the characters are poor and are trying to get more rights since they are suffering, Lam said
“[The characters] are going against the army and most people die, so that is why it is called ‘The Miserable,’” Lam said.
Tschider said that she and Lam share their role of Éponine, so they each act in the role for half of the shows.
“Éponine is one of the poor people and her parents are thieves so they go around stealing from poor people,” Tschider said. “She wants to join the revolution, but she is a girl. She ends up dressing up as a boy to fight with the other male students and then dies in the first battle.”
All of the roles that the PHS students had required much singing. One unique aspect of ‘Le Mis’ is that there are no lines spoken, since the whole story is told through music and singing, Lam said.
“[We] sing a lot so it is hard on [our] voices, but also we love to sing,” Lam said.
Prior to all being cast members of “Les Mis,” the PHS freshman were all friends since they have all been doing Berkeley Playhouse for a while and knew each other at school, Meil said.
“It was just kind of a coincidence that we all ended up doing it together,” Meil said.
Acting together outside of school has helped the six PHS freshmen become much closer, Tschider said.
“Theater is really weird because you get to see things about other people that you don’t normally get to see in regular life,” Tschider said. “It is a different kind of thing when you are talking to someone verses when you are in front of them singing. It is nerve wracking but it really brings people closer together.”
Adams, Fraser, Lam, Meil, Tschider and Suter Ternynck all take Acting I at school. Acting outside of school usually has one goal, which is preparing for a show, so everything they practice and learn is in preparation for that. However Acting I at school involves learning about acting itself, without preparing for larger productions, Adams said.
“It is very different because we go from different topics like Shakespeare or Comedy [in Acting I], but with ‘Les Mis,’ you only have one part and you really have to evolve to that one part,” Lam said.
Another difference between acting at school and acting at Berkeley Playhouse is that the cast is comprised of students from all different high schools, Meil said.
“It is also a little different because in the acting class we know all of the people that are in the class, because we have been going to school with them,” Meil said. “But with Berkeley Playhouse, it is new people each time.”
Tschider said she enjoys getting to know students at other schools as well as her classmates at PHS better through theater.
“It is kind of cool to see the people in all the different friend groups at school come together in theater,” Tschider said.