The Scenes of Notre Dame
April 10, 2018
Every spring, student actors and crew put in hours and hours of practice and planning, vigorously running through each scene until every line is embedded into their subconscious. The musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is anticipated by the students and staff of Waukee High School. Many see the on stage work but what is kept in the dark is the meticulous planning and preparation that goes on for months in advance.
Chelsea Haaland, who has been part of the theatre team since 2015, is part of the selection committee along with vocal director Kathryn Mosiman, choreographer David Decker, pit director Josh Deutmeyer and technical directors Alex Snodgrass and Tracy Stewart. “We have a list of criteria that we consider,” Haaland stated, “including a large, expandable cast which allows us to meaningfully involve as many students as possible on stage… large pit orchestra to involve as many instrumentalists as possible…, and themes or styles that we haven’t worked on in previous years.”
The work started in June with the options for the coming year. The committee finalizes their choice in the fall. Auditions are held throughout December, and the head designers are selected to begin their creative work. Once the cast has been selected in January rehearsals, kick into high gear until the first day of performance, April 19th.
For four straight months students such as juniors Abbi Lesnick and Sydney Schafer work diligently backstage preparing the creative design details that come together to perfect the production.
Lesnick, head of makeup designer, has been involved in schools plays since 6th grade. It takes around two months to prepare the looks for everyone. “We have to submit rough ideas of what we want some of the characters to look like,” Lesnick said. “Once we start meeting as a crew, we talk through designs and get all out ideas together. We do makeup maps or face maps where we draw in the makeup using colored pencils.” Her and a crew of seven other makeup artists and two other designers are responsible for every detail on each actors body. Each element adding to the overall vibe of the production. “The most rewarding thing is seeing the reaction that the crowd gives,” stated Lesnick.
Schafer along with Jocelyn Smith and Eric Snyder, is the head of scenic crew. Their crew of twenty build and paint all the large set piece for the musical, working on all set item: they must drill, saw, measure, glue, and staple every inch of the stage. The team puts in tremendous time outside of school. “We meet every Tuesday and Wednesday and all day about every other Saturday,” said Schafer. “But to watch the actors use the set pieces for the first time in rehearsals and to witness how they give the show a new meaning is the most rewarding thing.”
Seniors Alayna Verduyn and Will Adams play the two lead roles. Esmeralda, played by Verduyn, is a gypsy and an outcast. To prepare for the act Verduyn watched both the original musical and movie. “I then started picking through my script to make sure I understood all of it. I listen to the music every time I get in my car!” Verduyn said. “I usually go one scene at a time to really try and interpret how I can make it my own.” She also described her character in the play, speaking about the level of confidence and pride Esmeralda radiates. “I feel as if my character is a symbol of strength as she stands up for the outcasts and those who can’t stand up for themselves. She is bold and stands for what she wants and won’t let people dull her flame.”
Esmeralda’s role is closely tied to Adams’ character, Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, locked in a tower for his whole life. Adams shared, “Quasimodo affects the audience by showing that self definition is far more important than the perception or opinion of yourself from others.” He spoke about reaching out to anyone who connects to the feeling of being trapped in their own lives. “Their story needs to be seen and heard.”
“No other Iowa theater has produced The Hunchback of Notre Dame before – no college, community theatre, high school, or professional company. We are thrilled to be the first to create and share this story with Iowa audiences,” said Haaland.
The crew and cast expressed the amount of heart they put into the show. “Even though it is set in the past, many of the conflicts are applicable today,” explained Verduyn. “There will always be someone who feels like the outcast, and sometimes you have to be a voice for those who can’t speak up for themselves.” Show dates are April 19-21 at 7:00 p.m. and April 21 at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are $10; shows often sell out so it is suggested to purchase tickets early. For more updates follow @WTPublicity on Twitter and instagram.