By George Basler
Austin Kiley has directed student musicals at Vestal High School for 10 years, but he says he has never directed a show like the one that will be seen this weekend.
The production of Les Miserables School Edition will close out a non-traditional high school musical season in which some local schools used technology to salvage their spring musicals despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The Vestal High production is an elaborate effort that required months of planning, beginning in December when the school received a remote performance license to stream the show.
The 40 student cast members were never on the stage together. Instead, they recorded their singing individually, or in small groups, using a digital audio workstation, said Kiley, a music teacher at the high school.
Kiley and his associates edited the music together. Students then came to the auditorium to block a scene and, after taking off their masks, lip synched to their pre-recorded voices. The production team filmed them on the stage, with camera angles to make the scenes dramatic and interactive. The final product will be streamed twice this weekend.
“It’s definitely a different theatrical experience than they’ve ever participated in, or seen,” Kiley said.
For example, in any given scene (and Les Mis is known for some elaborate crowd scenes), five student actors would be on the stage at the same time while three other actors were filmed on the same stage at a separate time, he said. Other actors may have been filmed on the same set on their own. Some students even performed at their homes in front of green scenes with the set later digitally added behind them.
All this had to be edited together by Kiley, three student helpers and Sean Sherwood, whom Kiley credited with overseeing the audio.
Student feedback was positive even though putting the show together was out of the ordinary, Kiley said. “A lot of times they would say they’re really having fun,” he added. He also believes they explored some new skills, such as how to play to a camera and use lighting.
As for himself, Kiley estimated he spent three times as many hours working on Les Mis than he would with a traditional stage production.
“I’m never going to do anything like this again,” the Vestal teacher said, with a laugh. But the final product is something in which he takes pride.
IF YOU GO: Vestal High School’s production of Les Mis will be streamed at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday (June 18 and 20). To purchase tickets, go to www.showtix4u.com/event-details/52848