By Liz Adrian, ACC-Rock IslandJune 25, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - The first showing of Countryside Community Theater's production of Les Miserables won't hit the stage until the first week of July, but the cast and crew -- including Army Contracting Command-Rock Island employees Michelle Blocker-Rosebrough and Steven Jessen -- have been preparing for months.
Although Jessen and Blocker-Rosebrough are both involved in the show, their experiences with this production -- and CCT in general -- are largely divergent.
Jessen, an ACC-RI procurement analyst, has been involved with the theater on and off since its creation in 1983, always as technical crew or board member, never as an actor. He has been on the board for 15 years and is currently the theater's vice president.
On the other hand, this is Blocker-Rosebrough's first production with CCT, and she will be onstage as a member of the chorus. Blocker-Rosebrough is a procurement analyst and policy team leader
She auditioned for the production on a whim. After providing her 11-year-old daughter with some constructive feedback during her preparation for the Les Miserables audition, her daughter dared her to try out.
She took her daughter up on the dare, in part because of her musical background. In graduate school, she was the lead singer of a country and classic rock band with a group of 40-something-year-old guys that played in several venues in Manhattan, Kan. She was also a karaoke jockey for three years in graduate school.
"I ran a karaoke show three times a week at three different bars," said Blocker-Rosebrough. "I had to sing when no one else wanted to and also sing requests. I would get tips, sometimes as much as $20 to sing one song."
Armed with an extensive musical background, but without the required photo and rèsumè, Blocker-Rosebrough didn't expect to be cast. Nonetheless, she had set her sights set on the role of Madame Thenardier -- a main villian in the production.
"I play a good raunchy old broad," said Blocker-Rosebrough.
After a few call-backs, she was assigned as the understudy for Madame Thenardier, as well as a member of the ensemble.
"As a member of the ensemble, I also have particular roles with solos," said Blocker-Rosebrough. "I love singing; I used to sing in the high school choir. Having the experience of singing in a group as a part of something bigger is a lot of fun."
As a veteran member of CCT, Jessen knows that Blocker-Rosebrough making it onto the cast is quite an achievement.
"More than 200 people tried out for the show, but only around 50 were actually cast," said Jessen. "It was an accomplishment to get into the show because it was very well-auditioned with double the number of people compared to what we normally see."
As the cast prepares for the show, Blocker-Rosebrough is focused on preparing for her role.
"It has been challenging because of my lack of time," said Blocker-Rosebrough. "I have three kids and two jobs, so I had to learn ways of fitting in time to memorize the songs because the chorus is in most of the play. I downloaded all of the songs and I sing them all day long, and at lunch, I look at the music and practice my parts."
While Blocker-Rosebrough prepares herself for the show, Jessen is focusing on making sure there is solid support behind the scenes. As vice president of the board, he is responsible for tasks such as securing the space, setting schedules and setting up auditions. For this show, he was on the committee that selected the director, music director and other production staff and crew.
"For the production staff, it was a very long process to find the right people to fit the right roles and it was tough because we had a lot of good options," said Jessen.
The crew is in the process of designing a large metal revolving stage that will spin around in order to shift the cast and stage into three different scenes.
"Having this type of stage will really help move the production along," said Jessen. "It will help reduce downtime between scene changes, which all directors like to keep to a minimum."
In addition to a high-quality set, the costumes are all being custom-made by a costumer from the University of Iowa.
Just getting permission to perform the show is a big deal for CCT, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary season.
"This is the first time Les Miserables has ever been offered to amateur theaters," said Jessen. "Our 2013 season originally consisted of 'Whistle Down the Wind' and 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat', which will now be pushed to CCT's 2014 season. When CCT was notified we could get Les Miserables, we changed gears very quickly and made the decision to make the investment and put the show on as it should be done. Our show budget is about double the amount what we normally do."
Soon after CCT and another amateur theater in Cedar Rapids were granted the rights to perform the show by the licensing authorities, no further contracts were released because the licensing company was no longer going to offer the rights in foreseeable future. Jessen said he heard Les Miserables is headed back to Broadway and once a production is on Broadway or on tour, they don't offer it to amateur theaters.
"If you want to see it live, this might be your only chance for awhile, unless you want to go to Broadway or catch one of the tours," said Blocker-Rosebrough.