Sunday, April 3, 2016

The journey to Les Misérables A conversation with Greta and Caroline Taylor of The Marionettes Chorale


The Marionettes Chorale has put on numerous shows that have moved the audience, like Carmen and now the classic, Les Misérables for the second time. The musical takes place at Queen's Hall. St Ann's from May 22 to 24, 2015. As the prestigious cast prepares to wow you once again, we take a closer look at the dynamic pair at the helm of this production! Greta and Caroline Taylor share their inspiration and journey in putting on Les Mis!

As the artistic director and stage director, how has this production been for you? Why did you choose to do this musical?

Greta: Les Mis has always been my favourite musical. Truth be told, I respected the work so much, with its message of injustice and exploitation which transcends time-not the most cheerful topic-I had reservations, wondering if people would shy away from a serious, sad story, or whether we could do it justice. I was the defensive pessimist, Caroline the cock-eyed optimist. She was sure we could make it work, we pulled out all the stops, and she was right!

Caroline: This one has been in the works for a long time. I actually saw it for the first time on the West End as a child with Mum, and completely fell in love with it. I've now seen it three times, plus the movie.

I personally spent much of the last decade trying to get the rights to do the full production here (as opposed to the abridged student version available at the time). So when they became available at the end of 2012, we took the leap of faith. It is very easy to do this musical-operetta badly. It's epic, and it's incredibly technically challenging, with a large lead cast and a huge supporting cast, countless solos and scene changes-so a lot of the process was problem-solving. How could we tackle these production challenges, without sophisticated audio equipment, the revolving stage or mammoth moving sets you get in the West End and Broadway productions? Until the first performance, it felt like rolling the dice. To come out for the curtain call on opening night to see the audience on their feet was unforgettable. To have the following four audiences respond the same way was surreal.It meant this huge cast-people with day jobs, few with training or experience on stage-and this amazing crew had managed to capture the magic of Mis on a Trinidadian stage. I was incredibly proud of and grateful to everybody who pulled together and made it what it was.

The story of Les Mis, touches on some life issues: religion, poverty, love and forgiveness. It is a reality many face. Do you think the message in this musical can engender change or compassion?

Greta: There are so many messages here, many controversial. A priest lies to save a soul. Out of love? A convict breaks parole, assumes a new identity, and devotes his life to helping others. But he is a law-breaker. I don't think the average person dwells on these details, but rather is carried away by the sheer beauty and power of the music. And, to say the least, the story moves you to tears.

Caroline: I think music and theatre, especially when combined, can have a tremendous power to move people to look at and feel differently about things. Les Mis is moving, entertaining and life-affirming. I don't think I could say it better than someone who came to the show-activist Eden Shand, who actually sent a review to the newspaper last year after seeing the show. This stuck out for me:

"The Marionettes Chorale production of Les Misérables ended its run at Queen's Hall last Sunday night to a deservedly standing ovation in recognition of the superb handling of an outstanding theatrical property. ... I could not help thinking during the performance, that while young Frenchmen were dying in battle on the Queen's Hall set, just across the hill in Laventille, young Trinis were dying in another kind of gun-play. One was art, the other was life as we have come to know it. We live in troubled violent times in our Republic but there is hope for us yet. Performing art can give us a lift and lessen the pain of everyday living.

The Marionettes are doing much more than producing shows. By their getting together, in the midst of social despair, and mounting the kind of production that Les Misérables was, they are doing the sacred work of giving a people hope. Thank you Marionettes, and thank you bpTT for putting oil and gas money to such noble purpose, as we listen out to hear our people sing again."

Which character stands out for you and why?

Greta: On the one hand, Valjean, the law-breaker who is anxious to turn his life around, and devotes his life to caring for an orphan as his own. But then Javert is powerful, representing the unrelenting representative of the law. He'd rather commit suicide than accept kindness from an ex convict.

Caroline: You know, directing a show, I always try to imagine the journey of each character so that I can really collaborate productively with the actors to find the truth and authenticity of each one, moment to moment. But by the time I've done that work, I'm so partial to all of them that I can't pick one-not even my own!

How has it been working with one another?

Greta: Fantastic. Everyone was anxious to make it work, fed off each other's energy, seemed to enjoy every minute of it, despite the sacrifices that had to be made. We didn't always see eye to e ye, but the mutual respect was always there. We always found the way to work things out.

Caroline: Though with some fraught moments, it's generally been a very uplifting journey with the entire team. Like any mother and daughter or creative team members do, we can disagree. And sometimes it can feel like the work time can take away from the family time. But I think we also know, more intimately than anyone else, what the other one may be struggling with. So ultimately, we work together toward achieving something really meaningful, and look out for each other, onstage and off.

In Les Misérables, a mother's love and sacrifice for her daughter is highlighted. As a mother, what is the most valuable experience/lesson?

Greta: Look before you leap. Be sure you are in a position to raise a child before you have one, otherwise there could be heartbreak on both sides.

If there is one point-lesson that you'd take away from this story, what would it be and why?

Greta: The lesson is universal. Despite the injustice and exploitation that exists, there are good people who would fight-albeit often unsuccessfully-to change this.

Caroline: For me, I would hope people see that every time we choose love and hope over hate, violence or fear, we make a positive difference on the planet. Sometimes it can feel like there is too much to fix, too much that is broken. But I really believe that, from smaller, private acts of everyday mindfulness to larger-scale public acts of resistance, we either endorse the way things are, or help create a more positive scenario-being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. Mind (fullness) over matter.

On a more practical note, I hope too that our audience is reminded of the artistic talent we have here, and how much we need to develop our creative and cultural industries to support that talent. Yes, it's about what we can export-and it's what we can foster and develop here to build a viable industry.

What's next for the Marionettes? Any new musicals upcoming?

Greta: In July the focus will be on the youth. The Youth Chorale celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and not many of the younger members could be part of Les Mis. So the spotlight will be on them

July 12. And yes, we have a couple of possibilities for a new musical in the offing.

Caroline: There will certainly be more. We're keeping which one and when close to the vest for now.