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Making great art

It’s a place where an unlikely mix of undergraduates come together to make great art.

The Pauper Players’ latest masterpiece came in the form of the musical production, Les Miserables, which featured nearly 80 Furman students participating as cast, crew, set designers, singers or musicians and brought record-breaking ticket sales for the entirely student-run theater group.

The two-day run of the international hit musical in February brought between 1,800 and 2,000 people for the shows at McAlister Auditorium, said Elyse Marder ‘15, a chemistry major and Pauper Players Council President.

“We had so many dedicated students working on the production, rehearsing four or five hours a night,” said Marder. “Their hard work made Les Miserables the biggest success in our history.”

Les Miserables, directed by Rebecca Shield ’14, a mathematics and economics major, follows the Players’ successful student-run production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company, in September. One of the goals of the Players is to provide motivated students with the opportunity to sharpen their skills in leadership, communication, performance, cooperation and responsibility.

Furman’s Pauper Players was founded in 1992 by Mary-Mitchell Campbell ’96, now a New York City-based music director who recently served as conductor and music director for the Broadway shows, Big Fish and The Addams Family.  The Players use the funds they raise from ticket sales toward future productions. They also donate portions to charitable organizations, including Artists Striving to End Poverty, a New York City-based non-profit founded and run by Campbell that is dedicated to bringing the arts to underprivileged children internationally.

The Players is open to anyone who understands the craft, or who wants to learn, said Marder. With the group’s varied backgrounds and skills, the Players has a balanced mix of analytical and artistic thinkers who all contribute to well-rounded productions, she said.

“Theater tends to bring people together, and not always the people you would expect,” said Ben Keiper ’14, a vocal performance major from Greenville, N.C., who directed and conducted the Players’ production of Company.  “I’ve met people whose friendships are very important to me and whose involvement in my life has been critical these past few years.”

In previous years, Players have presented a wide range of productions, including popular musicals such as Sweeney Todd to new works such as The Content of Our Character, a commemoration of African-American culture written and directed by then-Furman student Christina Henderson.

“It is impressive to see what students can do if challenged,” said Elizabeth Smith ’14, a business and sociology major who served as production supervisor for Les Miserables. “Much of my job wasn’t familiar to me and I learned as I went. The experience has helped me take away a pride in myself and my ability.”

Smith got involved with Les Miserables through her friends and in part because of the show’s meaning to her family. Her parents got engaged before seeing Les Miserables in New York on Valentine’s Day 24 years ago.

Philip Reed ‘15, musical director for Les Miserables, was happy to give up a week of his winter break to return to campus early for “Camp Les Mis,” a series of back-to-back, day-long rehearsals leading up to the show.

“I taught the music to the singers, rehearsed the orchestra and chorus, and coached the leads on their singing and acting,” Reed said. “It was truly stunning that we were able to put such an enormous show together in a little over a month.”

Even after the success of Les Miserables, the group has no plans to slow down. Students already have an international cabaret night in the works for this spring, Marder said.

Morgan Voke ’14, hopes her theater experiences will continue long after graduation. Voke, a vocal performance major who first got involved with The Pauper Players during her sophomore year, plans to head north to Chicago to take acting courses at The Second City.

“I’ve had so much fun and learned so much here at Furman that I can’t wait to go on and continue finding ways to study theater and music in the future,” she said. “Performing is just where I feel I need to be.”

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