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Talley's Folly

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Sacred Treasures: Icons

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The Christmas Carol

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Film Club Screening: Joyeux Noel

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NFSO 31st Season Concert - "Holiday Pops"

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NWFSC Fine and Performing Arts Division Honors Recital

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Norman Brown's Joyous Christmas

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Dirty Dancing

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Les Miserables - Behind the Scenes

Mattie Kelly Arts Center


Audrey Bailey and Clint Mahle (front left) work on the set for Les Mis.
Audrey Bailey and Clint Mahle (front left) work on the set for Les Mis.

5/31/2013 - Standing over a sawdust-covered table on a recent afternoon, Audrey Bailey, a 78-year-old Niceville resident, watched as her mentor of nearly 15 years, Clint Mahle, lay a large stencil sheet filled with rectangles, diamonds and triangles over a piece of plywood, then began tracing a series of shapes onto the brown-painted panel.

Once the shapes are filled in and painted, the panel will make up just one section of a monstrous bridge the backstage crew at Northwest Florida State College is constructing as the centerpiece of its Les Misérables performance, set to run July 17 to 20 and July 25 to 27 at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville. Audrey is part of a crew of volunteers, students and staff who have been working in earnest since December to construct and prepare the set for what will be the most elaborate summer production ever staged by the college, involving a cast of more than 40 actors and chorus singers and filling the massive mainstage for a seven-night run of the world’s most popular musical.

For Audrey, who has volunteered with the college’s fine and performing arts programs since 1996, painting sets and other pre-production duties are second nature – although she acknowledges each of the dozens of sets she has worked on during the last 17 years has had its own set of challenges.

“There is going to be a lot more detail in the Les Mis set than we’ve ever done before,” said the veteran volunteer, who noted that every section of the massive set has to be built from the ground up, and every piece painted by hand.

Audrey’s devoted backstage work began even before the college’s $25 million cultural arts venue was built, and she’s helped paint the sets for more than 50 productions -- going back to the days when students performed the college’s popular summer musicals in the old gymnasium. In addition to her quiet, behind-the-scenes role helping bring theatrical productions to life, the British native also volunteers in the “front of the house” as the Mattie Kelly Arts Center’s head usher – a role that also dates back to the days when the gym served as the venue for plays, and ushers had to wear “atrocious red jackets.” Audrey’s love of theatre developed while growing up in London, where school administrators often shuttled her class to the ballet and other performances. It was “so easy to attend theatre back then, since we didn’t have TV,” she recalled. But during World War II, her family was forced to evacuate London and she later relocated to Toronto in 1960. Her sister eventually married and relocated to Eglin Air Force Base, and Audrey met her own husband-to-be while on a visit to Okaloosa County from Canada, maintaining a long-distance relationship until they married and moved to Niceville.

As Audrey works alongside Clint Mahle, who serves as the scenic design coordinator at the college, there is an easy camaraderie. “Audrey is great. Her help backstage has been invaluable over the years – our productions simply wouldn’t be the same without her,” he said. Audrey’s enthusiasm for her volunteer work at the college also has a personal inspiration. “I like the young people, they keep me young,” she quipped with a smile.

With more than 35 gallons of paint and $8,000 of lumber, the biggest challenge for the Les Mis set is “getting 30 actors 11 feet in the air safely and making them feel secure while up there,” according to Bob Whittaker, the college’s theatre technical supervisor, who is in charge of the mechanical design and set construction. The bridge now being painted will serve as the major set piece, with four buildings set to either side, and changes in location denoted by changes in lighting and rearranging the show’s set pieces.

Tickets for the Northwest Florida State College production of Les Misérables are on sale now for $25 for adults and $20 for youth ages 18 and younger. Tickets may be purchased in-person, by phone or online from the Box Office at (850) 729-6000 or There is a $2 per ticket Box Office processing fee. Currently enrolled NWFSC students may request one free ticket per student ID in person from the Box Office.

The play is based on a novel written by Frenchman Victor Hugo and published in 1862. Set in early 19th-century France, it tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict who violates the terms of his parole but finds redemption in the ensuing years through a series of virtuous and philanthropic deeds. Mahle, a theatre professor, is not only overseeing the set, but also playing the role of Javert, a lawman and long-time nemesis of Valjean, who Javert is determined to see punished for his crimes.

Les Misérables will be the final production before the retirement of Dr. Cliff Herron, the long-time dean of the college’s renowned art programs and the show’s director, “and we’re hoping to do whatever is in our power to make this a memorable experience for him and our audience,” Mahle said, adding Les Misérables is “very much like an opera” and “considered the most popular musical ever, so we don’t want to disappoint our audience. You don’t want to miss this show!” he said. “The seven-night run is our longest ever and it will be spectacular.”