About 70 members of the cast and crew for ACU’s homecoming musical “Les Misérables” began technical preparations on Sept. 30 with the unpacking of the production’s set at the Abilene Civic Center.
Adam Hester, chair of the theatre department and director for Les Mis, said the size of the musical’s set could be compared to that of last year’s homecoming production.
“The set for 42nd Street came in on one 18-wheeler truck,” he said. “The set for Les Mis came in two 18-wheelers – and both trucks were packed.”
The set, rented from the Music Theater of Wichita in Kansas, is primarily made up of several heavy backdrops that remain on-stage throughout the production. Mobile pieces include tables, chairs, a bed, two staircases and the famous barricade in Act II.
Technical director Andrew Wheeler said the crew was worried about getting everything unloaded smoothly because of the set’s immense size.
“Normally you’d be dealing with a loading dock, or maybe a huge ramp, but we didn’t have that,” he said. “We had to rely on people picking it up and setting it down.”
Despite concerns, the set went up quickly and smoothly, Wheeler said.
“The tech director from Music Theater of Wichita actually came with the set,” he said. “He helped supervise the construction of it – because of that, there really weren’t any major problems.”
Another potential challenge was averted because of construction similarities between the Abilene Civic Center and the Music Theater of Wichita, Hester said.
“When you rent a set, the biggest challenge is that it’s built for a particular theater – when that rental goes out to another place, it has to be adapted to the theater you’re going to perform in,” he said. “Thankfully, the Abilene Civic Center is very close to the Music Theater of Wichita’s size.”
Once the set was in place, work on lighting the set began. ACU hired freelance lighting designer Jim Elliot to illuminate the production.
“The set is wonderful, because it’s actually designed to be lit,” he said. “It’s got follow-spot positions [hidden spotlights on-stage] built into it, so that gives a very unique place to light from.”
Despite the versatility of the set, Elliot said it was no small task to light the whole production – there are about 300 lighting cues throughout the two acts.
“It’s one of the more complicated sets I’ve lit,” he said. “I’ve lit a few opera sets larger than this, but it’s certainly right up there with them.”
Adding to the scale of the production are nearly 60 actors – including five small children – most of whom require individual microphones.
“It’s one of the largest shows we’ve done in years,” Hester said. “This is just an enormous technical show.”
“Les Misérables” will premiere Oct. 18 in the Abilene Civic Center.