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Monday, July 17, 2017

C.A.S.T. brings Les Miserables to Fort Thomas, While Changing for the Future

Jake Moses from Seven Hills High School and Maggie Seibert from Highlands High School, playing Valjean and Cosette
by Colin Moore

Starting Friday the 21st of July C.A.S.T. will begin their latest production, Les Miserables, at Highlands High School. On stage it may not look like much is different, with Les Mis following in the footsteps of the successful and well-received C.A.S.T. productions of the last six years, but behind the scenes there have been some big changes.

Commonwealth Artists Student Theater started off under the umbrella of Fort Thomas Independent Schools, but this time last year Jason Burgess and his wife Amy came to the conclusion that things might have to change:

“We talked about how we’d reached our maximum potential attached to Fort Thomas Schools. We realised if we wanted to offer more, more productions, more workshops, that we’d have to branch out and become our own non-profit, with our own board. We’ve loved our partnership with Fort Thomas schools, and we’ll keep partnering with them in some way in the future.”

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The plan for C.A.S.T. is to grow from its Fort Thomas roots, and to continue working with kids from Covington, Taylor Mill and all over Greater Cincinnati to put on great shows and continue their theater education:

Highlands and Fort Thomas is very lucky to have the arts community that we have, it’s so engaged. In a lot of other areas in Northern Kentucky it’s not the same. We can create more opportunities for kids on stage, off stage and educationally. We can offer kids educational experiences and other opportunities that wouldn’t be afforded to them otherwise.”

C.A.S.T. has always had kids from other high schools and communities involved in its productions here in Fort Thomas. This year they have students from 19 area high schools involved including Highlands, Anderson High School, Newport Central Catholic, Cincinnati Country Day, Seven Hills, School for Creative and Performing Arts, Covington Catholic, Wyoming High School and more. “There’s always been a higher percentage of Highlands students but as we got bigger, we realised we could be offering more to more people.”

Over a four to five year plan, Jason and Amy hope to grow C.A.S.T. at their own pace. They hope to add one more performance next summer (“one big musical as usual and a play” according to Jason) and possibly move to year long programming the next year.

What makes C.A.S.T. unique is that it’s not just for actors, Jason explains: “What sets us apart from other high school programs is that the entire cast and crew are high school students, as well as the majority of the orchestra. We really put students at the forefront.” Students range from incoming freshman to graduating seniors in high school. The entire crew is made up of students including most of the designers for the different departments involved in creating a production. “The ultimate goal is to open the doors of collaboration to students from different high schools in the Greater Cincinnati community to create and produce a show together and to establish new relationships and create new friendships.”

This year for Les Miserables, One hundred local students are involved, with fifty-two in the cast and the rest on the production side. Auditions began in March, rehearsals started in May and they have been hard at it for the last seven to eight weeks. The students meet to rehearse in the evenings, and Jason and Amy are respectful of the fact that the kids have other interests outside of the production. Jason notes, “They’re high school students, so we work around jobs and vacations and that kind of thing.” While some of the cast and crew may have ambitions of acting or production as a career or as a future college major, many of them just see C.A.S.T. as a fun project over the summer. It’s not just for hardcore theater kids.

Jason recognizes that there are challenges related to their new independent non-profit status, not least funding: “It’s definitely a leap of faith, after these shows we have to start applying for grants from organisations like Artswave, state and federal grants. We have to create our own financial portfolio to be able to run more things.”

Despite their years running successful shows, they still feel like they have a lot to prove: “One of the biggest challenges is the fact that we’re new. We need to prove that we’re worth peoples time, money and effort. We need to prove to people that we’re viable and that we’re worth it.” Jason and Amy run C.A.S.T. on top of full time jobs. Jason is Fort Thomas Independent Schools’ Theater instructor, working at Highlands and at the middle school, as well as a full time teacher. “There’s definitely a challenge in time management involved.” He’s quick to point out that it’s not all challenges for the couple, they do it because they love it. “It’s also a lot of fun. It’s a challenge that we readily accept and look forward to.”

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This years production is “in a good place,” according to Jason. “In every production there are always some loose ends that you’re tying up in the last week. This coming weekend we add in the costumes, the sets and the orchestra, so the kids really see it coming together.”

Jason is confident that the audiences will love the show. “I think people will be really impressed with the hard work and talent that the students are putting it in there. They definitely won’t be disappointed.”

Tickets for the performances listed below are available at and remaining unreserved tickets can be purchased on the night, from an hour before each performance. All performances are held in the Performing Arts Center at Highlands High School.

Friday, July 21st, 7:30pm, Opening Night
Saturday, July 22nd, 7:30pm
Sunday, July 23rd, 2pm
Friday, July 28th, 7:30pm
Saturday, July 29th 7:30pm
Sunday, July 30th, 2pm, Closing Performance

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