What I Learned from Tragedy

Well, it was back in high school when I first discovered the genre of tragedy. I treated the genre very poorly. Told myself I will NEVER love a tragedy (little did I know what would happen in my first year of college. Throughout all the years I was at Fletcher (referring to high school)- stayed close minded to that genre. Each time one was read, I already did not like any of them.

Then out of the blue in December 2012, I experienced Les Mis for the first time. My family was taking my sister and I to see the film. I actually was unsure coming in, but the only reason why I decided to go is because I knew the song, “I Dreamed a Dream”. I wasn’t even told what genre the musical was so that way I would even go. If I had known Les Mis was a tragedy, that first time never would have happened.

Well it was after Fantine’s death when I realized Les Mis was a tragedy. I was extremely shocked and confused. Never did a tragedy exist in musicals before: all I had seen previously were happy musicals. Nothing made sense at all. I didn’t even know how to respond or feel or react. So that experience was not the best time I even had. Even though I thought Les Mis was TOO DEPRESSING, I somehow came out with “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in my head. Then a day or a few weeks later, I don’t know why I did that, but I started researching the musical myself.

March 2013- I don’t know why I decided to watch the film again. That time around, I got so much more out of Les Mis. It helped a lot knowing ahead of time that I was seeing a tragedy. I was able to realize there was something special about Les Mis, and at the same time, I felt uplifted at the end. That made no sense at all- I originally thought all tragedies were pure sad. But after the 2nd chance, the rest is history.

Halton Theater

By Summer of 2013, I was obsessed with Les Mis. I had dug quite deep into the musical trying to figure out why I felt uplifted. I soon found the answer: the themes of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption were why. That same year, the community college I attended put on a phenomenal production of that musical. I was there three times: first with family on Nov. 15, and an usher the 17th and 24th. That production truly was the motor for wanting to see Les Mis in the West End.

Well, July 30th, 2015 was when I saw the West End production. I already was going to be in England that year for a Bristol Pilgrimage, which would start in London. My family went up two days early to get used to the time change and get more out of London. I was seeing Les Mis with my mom, and our seats were the 9th row back from the stage. It was surreal at first- from seeing the Queen’s Theater to buying souvenirs to noticing I had an understudy for Valjean to seeing the set to seeing how close I was- nothing felt real. Then after I heard the first notes of the orchestra, I knew this was no dream, but a dream becoming reality. Those first notes also told me it was going to be more than expected, and they were right.

What do you know: Nov. 5th, 2017 was my fifth time seeing the stage show. This time I was with Gardner Webb University. Once again had a understudy (this time for Eponine). I was seeing it in Greenville at the gorgeous Peace Center. I came in fresh meaning I wasn’t go to compare the cast to my West End. Making that decision made me see the US Tour cast for what they were, and was able to respect and appreciate my understudy. It actually lived up to the West End cast in their own way. After all, this was the 25th anniversary production: it felt like it had more Victor Hugo in it, and it truly showed the vastness of Paris. There were some scenes I loved a lot more in this particular production: for example, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”.

Peace Center

What do you know again: that every other year pattern continued. This time, I experienced the US Tour with Blumenthal. That was Nov. 3rd, 2019, and was another date with my mom. 2019 had five of the exact same actors/actresses playing the same role as 2017- the Javert (Josh Davis), Cosette (Jillian Butler), Marius (Joshua Grosso), Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker), and Madame Thenardier (Allison Guinn). Another thing happened again: another understudy (for Valjean).

Just like 2017, Joshua Grosso and Matt Shingledecker were still standouts. I can easily say why Joshua was a standout, but not for Enjolras. As a matter of fact, Joshua has become my favorite Marius- part comes from his chemistry with Cosette, part came from an added personality trait (awkwardness), and part from how he interacted with Eponine. Due to that, I was able to explore Marius and Cosette a bit further, but at the same time not ignoring Eponine. That new personality trait made Marius a much more charming character- due to that, Marius is almost a core favorite character.

Ovens Auditorium

So in a short period of time- four theaters, four casts, and in total six times. The stage show might only have four casts, but I have seven casts in total: I also have seen the film, 25th concert, and the staged concert of 2019 (which I saw in cinemas). I think it is crazy how for some characters, I only have five actors, some I have six, and for some seven. 2019 was filled with a number of repeats—part of which were from my West End cast and the rest the US Tour.

Les Mis truly taught me a lot about the genre of tragedy. What I once believed about tragedies and what I knew about musicals were challenged. I never knew a tragedy is not just a tragedy. Due to Les Mis’ spiritual side, it makes it inspiring and uplifting. Due to the nature of the book, it makes perfect sense why the musical is sung-through. Through several of the songs, there is some kind of spiritual nature happening. Compassion is shown at death scenes, most of the characters have hope, etc……I believed that death scenes would be both unmemorable and that song couldn’t happen at those moments. I thought I knew the full capability of musical emotions, but Les Mis truly showed me a different side to emotions: due to heartbreak entering the picture, it strengthened them and made them more powerful. I think I had a hard time with tragedies at first because the word can through you off guard, and it seems as if I didn’t know “catharsis”- that is why tragedies are more and make you have a positive experience and not the other way around.

Les Mis is the reason why I am passionate about musicals. I actually am able to pick up on negative emotions faster in other musicals. It still is odd going back to Fletcher remembering how I once felt about the genre. Les Mis proved me wrong in more ways then none.

Tragedies of the Les Mis Characters

Yes, yet another Les Mis post. Today I decided to talk why each of the characters in Les Mis have something tragic about them.

Major Spoilers:

Jean Valjean- sent to jail and punished for five years just because he stole a loaf of bread to save his sister’s son and in total served 19 years due to multiple escapes. Has to serve his life as an ex-convict and faced injustice. At the end, he ended up dying, but with Cosette, his adopted daughter and Marius, his now son-in-law by his side.

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Javert- was born inside the jail, his tragic flaw is that he sees the world in black and white and believes “once a criminal always a criminal” and he thinks it is his purposes to recapture Valjean after he broke his parole. Did not know how to show love, mercy, or forgiveness or receive it. He built his principles wrong and strictly follows the law and eventually commits suicide.

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Fantine- her lover abandoned her living her to raise her daughter, but it is dangerous knowing you have an illegitimate child so she left Cosette in the hands of the Thenardiers not knowing how poorly they were going to treat her. Fired from Valjean’s factory unfairly by the foreman, turned to prostitution to care for her child and later died, but she got to die knowing her child will be care for since Valjean promised he would raise Cosette

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Monsieur and Madame Thenardier- their inn went bankrupt and fell into extreme poverty

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Eponine- was raised to be a thief and criminal, unloved, abused, and neglected by her parents, living in extreme poverty and dealing with unrequited love from Marius, the only good thing in her life. Ended up dying after being shot, but got to die in the arms of the man she loves.

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Cosette- had a horrible childhood because the Thenardiers abused her and treated her like a servant. At the end of the show, she lost her father and even though she lives, she still had tragic things happen in her life. She only has Marius left in her life.

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Marius- faced loads of trauma at the barricade. He was the only survivor of the barricades. He first lost Eponine and later would loss the rest of his friends. At the end of the show, all he has is Cosette.

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Enjolras, Gavroche and Students-all lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. Gavroche is kicked out of his family at a very young age (he is Eponine’s little brother), but loved by the students

By seeing that each of these characters have faced tragedy in their life shows just how human Les Mis is. Many of them died and some of them have a very dark life or lost everything important to them. So these characters are very real because of what they had to face in their life.

Dressing Up as Rizzo and Eponine

This year, I ended up dressing up as two musical characters, who are Rizzo from Grease and Eponine from Les Mis. My excitement for dressing up as these two characters was different. Even my knowledge of them is different as well. Below I will talk about these characters and why dressing up as them had a different nature when it comes to them.

Rizzo was a character I dressed up yesterday. The thing with Rizzo is that I don’t know her that well. She is the leader of the Pink Ladies at Rydell High. I want to say that she is tough and complex. I only had to buy the button up pink shirt and some iron-on letters to make the jacket. I dressed  up as Rizzo because yesterday’s homecoming theme was Bulldogs on Broadway. My club decided to focus on the musical, Grease. Because Sandy was taken, I had no choice but to dress up as one of the pink ladies and decided to do Rizzo despite the limited amount of knowledge I have about her.

Then I had a lot more fun dressing up as Eponine. Eponine, between the two, is the girl I know the best and who I love the most. Eponine is the complex, courageous, loyal, tragic, streetwise, unloved, lonely and strong teenage daughter of the Thenardiers. Her parents horribly abuse her and they dragged her into the criminal world. Her life is dark and she is so alone in life and does not know what it is like to feel loved. She meets Marius one day, who she falls in love with so deeply. Marius is the first and only person to show her kindness, which is why she loves him the way she does even though Marius loves Cosette. She would do anything for Marius to make sure he is happy, which is why she responds to her unrequited love the way she does.

Eponine’s costume took more pieces than Rizzo’s. I got all of my pieces at Goodwill the same trip. The dirt color I found in a makeup kit I got for my stage makeup class for one semester. I loved dressing up as Eponine and getting dirty. I had to look like I was covered in dirt because Eponine is living in poverty. I dressed up as Eponine because I attended a Les Mis party.

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Rizzo had the cleanest look between both girls. That is because Rizzo is not living in poverty unlike Eponine who is. It is interesting though that I dressed up as one character from a musical comedy and another character from a musical tragedy. Eponine is more meaningful to me than Rizzo because of the meaning Les Mis has to me. Eponine’s main song is “On My Own” and Rizzo’s main song  is “There are Worse Things I Could Do”

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My View on Tragedy in Literature

I decided to talk about my view on the genre of tragedy. I will start by talking about my high school view of tragedy and then talk about my college view of the genre.

My high school view of tragedy was very negative. It was when I first discovered the genre when it comes to theatre. When I heard the word tragedy, I automatically assumed the genre was pure sad and nothing else. So each time I knew we were reading a tragedy in high school, I ignored it and told myself tragedy does not belong in theatre and told myself I will never love a tragic show.

My college view of tragedy has this kind of split view. In a way, I have a negative view of the genre, but at the same time have a positive view of the genre. It was December of 2012 when I saw the movie of Les Misérables for the first time not knowing it was going to be tragic. So while watching after the first death, I realized Les Mis was a tragedy and I was like tragedies do not belong in musicals. I did not know how to respond so I was quite shocked and confused that I wasn’t paying fully attention. By the end of the movie, I had no clue if I liked it or not, but started researching the musical anyway.

Then 2013 comes along and I decided to watch that movie musical a second time. That was when I realized there was something special about Les Mis. I was able to calm down and tell myself that it is a good musical. I honestly wanted to know why it made me feel uplifted so I dug even further and finally found the answer. I realized it was a tale of hope, compassion, forgiveness, love, humanity, sacrifice and redemption. I realized tragedies are not pure sad like I once believed. But instead can be filled with so much joy and hope. So after telling myself I will never love a tragedy,  Les Mis proved me wrong. Another sad musical I love is Rent and it has this incredible message of living in the moment and living your lives in love.

maxresdefaultSo where does this negative view of tragedy come from? Well, I can be very particular of the genre. Some sad movies and plays are pure sad and those are the kind of movies and shows I do not want to watch. I had one very bad experience with a sad play. I saw #8 in Spring of 2015, which I was required to watch. It was a play about the Holocaust and a  family winning a lottery to escape through a truck. But I was way too uncomfortable watching it that I wanted to leave. They showed pictures from the camps, the ushers were dressed as Nazis. It just was too much to handle and I do not want sad shows to be pure sad and just not have a break. I was so uncomfortable that I wanted to leave after act I, but I had to stay. The second act made it hurt even more. By the end, I called my mom right away and I was crying. So my negative view comes from the fact that I am not that much of a tragedy fan and can be particular about which ones I watch.

Dear High School Self

Dear me in High School,

You will be quite surprised later in life. You honestly were close-minded to certain things that you realize would have been a big mistake. It is so true.

You never wanted to take Psychology or Sociology and that sounds really odd. I am saying that because you already had the interest in both of them. I am saying that because me as a college student know that Sociology is the study of the interaction among all people and Psychology is study of the mind, which helps you to understand people better. You already were interested in helping people living in poverty in high school and that is connected to both subjects. You were already asking people questions relating to both Psychology and Sociology.

Now you will be quite surprised by this. You made a big mistake when it comes to tragedy in high school. You first discovered it in ninth grade through Romeo and Juliet. You never knew tragedy was part of theatre until high school. You will learn that tragedy is way more than sad. The only reason why you were close-minded to that genre because you thought it was just as world of sadness and no more. Each time you read a tragedy, you ignored it and pushed it far back and thought it didn’t belong in theatre. Honestly, you should have discovered that there are tragic musicals in high school. In high school, you discovered Les Mis in 2009 and West Side Story in either 11th or 12th grade, but it didn’t cross that either of them are tragedies.

You will realize after you graduate high school that tragedy is not even what you think it is. A tragic musical actually will make a big impact in your life and that musical is called Les Misérables and that one is very tragic. Through that musical, you will realize that you shouldn’t have treated tragedy as poorly. I understand it is easy to just say you will hate tragedies because it does sound like just a sad genre. But you will realize tragedy is not just a world of pure sadness. Les Mis does not have that kind of nature and same goes for Rent. Both carry an inspiring message and both are home to positive emotions. Les Mis has an underlying spiritual theme and is a tale of hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, humanity, and redemption. So I am telling you that tragedy shouldn’t have been ignored in high school.

Later in life, you will grow so much. You were able to discover your strong spirit in those years, but throughout college years, that strong spirit will grow and will be challenged. Through things like Martin Luther King Service Day, Campus Civitan, The Gathering, Fall Break, 12 Hour Prayer, and the Bristol Pilgrimage, you will discover your strong spirit is much stronger than you believed. You will realize there is so much to discover within you. Your love of musicals will eventually turn into a passion. You will  have some pitfalls in your life, but try to know how to get back up.

What are some things you would tell your high school self?