FEATURE: Les Mis Five with Five – Kaela O’Connor

UC-CCM proudly presents LES MISERABLES opening this Thursday. This week, we’ve been spotlight various members of the cast with an interview. Today we’re joined by Kaela O’Connor, a member of the ensemble.

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1. Tell us about your background in musical theatre.

Oddly, I happened into the whole theatre thing through a freak accident. Long story short, I fell off a golf-cart and fractured my skull when I was 8 years old. I was in and out of a coma and could have been paralyzed had I hit my head anywhere else. I was very lucky. As a result, I spent months out of school recovering from the injuries. An avid horseback rider and semi-athlete, I was told I had to find some other hobbies for fear of further damage to my head. I had always had a soft spot for music and I loved seeing Broadway shows, so I decided to take some piano lessons, cause you can’t take a piano to the head like you can a soccer ball, right? I quickly caught the theatre-bug. Piano lessons soon turned into voice and acting classes at The Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ and I had even participated in their summer conservatory program (a program I would continue to do for 8 more summers). That’s when I decided I wanted to be a performer. When I was 10 years old, one of the artistic directors of Paper Mill, who coincidentally graduated from CCM, told me that if I wanted to have a shot in the Musical Theatre world, I would need to start dancing . . .  and dancing well. I began studying all forms of dance, along with taking acting classes and voice lessons, at a local performing arts studio. As they say, it’s all downhill from there. Twelve years after my freak and life-changing accident, I’m studying my greatest love at the school I set my sights on when I was just 9 years old. It’s crazy, the road that life sends you on sometimes. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life when I was 8 years old, I would have probably told you that I wanted to be a marine biologist or veterinarian. . .seriously. But this has all taught me that everything happens for a reason.

2. You’re a member of the ensemble of LES MISERABLES. How you approach such an epic show like this one?

The role of the ensemble is important in any show, however, in Les Mis, it is arguably one of the most important aspects of the production. Not taking anything away from the principal characters, as they have some really heavy material to execute but the ensemble is constantly going and moving the story along. We are the spirit and the essence of the show and it is so important for us to bring it and give it everything we’ve got. It is a physically and emotionally demanding show for all involved, that’s for sure, but it has always been one of my favorites, and I am very excited to be a part of scenes I didn’t get to be a part of last time I did the show when I played Fantine. During this production, I get to be a farm girl, a factory worker, a prostitute (for the 3rd time in a CCM show haha), a court onlooker, a drunk, a beggar, a woman of Paris, and a wedding guest. It’s a busy show, for sure, but it is fun to get to step into so many different characters, each with their own story and their own motivation for getting what they want.

Kaela performing "I Love a Piano" in WHITE CHRISTMAS / Photo by Terry Cloyd
Kaela performing “I Love a Piano” in WHITE CHRISTMAS / Photo by Terry Cloyd

3. Are there any moments in this show that you really enjoy – either involving you or as a lover of theatre? What should we watch out for?

One of my favorite moments to perform in this production is actually one of my least favorite moments in the original production. I always thought of the Act 2 song, ‘Turning’, as a costume change, because I just didn’t understand why they would put such a boring song in unless it was the literally only time someone important had to change their clothes! However, I really love the way that it is blocked in our show. The women are praying and mourning the loss of the friends and loved ones in a church. It’s a hard-hitting moment for the women when they realize they have nothing left and that their hopes for a better life have basically been shattered. It just makes so much more sense to me than the original production where they are just kind of chillin in the street being sad.  As a general thing to watch for, I think that some truly incredible performances are being given by everyone on the stage. It’s going to be a very special show. The sound that this cast is able to produce is just unreal and I am moved to tears every time we sing the big numbers, particularly ‘One Day More’ and the Finale of the show. There is just so much heart on the stage.

1781258_10201619862682004_1950581985_n4. What’s next for you? 

That’s always a fun question…! My 21st birthday is in about a month, so that’s fun! I’m guessing, not the kind of answer you had in mind though haha. All of us MTs are in the ‘waiting for summer stock offers’ part of our year, so hopefully something good will happen there! I’ve been playing a lot of piano and guitar recently and have been covering a lot of songs. I’ve started dabbling in creating some of my own music/lyrics too, but I may put together a set-list with a friend and play some places? Who knows! I think it’d be fun and it’s always good to get exposure. I’m looking to create my website sometime next year. I will, of course, need to get new headshots done before I do that because I’m still using the headshot I got done when I was 14 years old. I don’t look that different though, so it’s lasted me a while! But it’s definitely time for some new and cooler ones! I have a YouTube channel, but I haven’t uploaded anything since I was like 17. It’s getting to the point where I will hang out with friends and all of a sudden, someone pulls up one of my videos from years ago and I’m just like ‘oh…I should probably take this down. I’m much better now!’

UC-CCM will present LES MISERABLES opening Thursday, February 27 through Sunday, March 9th.  Tickets – if any are available – can be found here.

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