Theatre Diary 1: Dancing rats and walking trees

Several inhabitants of the fairytale kingdom in Shrek the Musical Jr. — including the Three Little Pigs (back row) — give it their all during a rehearsal on Jan. 12. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Rehearsals for Shrek the Musical Jr. get underway, with lots of new actors coming on board

If it seems like almost no time at all since the last “Theatre Diaries” piece, that’s because the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society (WRAPS) has gone straight from one show—Blithe Spirit, which was staged in November 2018—to another: Shrek the Musical Jr., which will hit the stage in March 2019.

The two productions overlapped for a time, as part of the backstage team behind Blithe Spirit—directors Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan and Barbara Roden, stage manager Jessica Clement, producer Susan McLean, designer Jim Duncan, and costumier Margaret Moreira, along with Shrek musical director Theresa Takacs—was already considering casting, staging, costumes, music, rehearsal schedules, and more for Shrek while Blithe Spiritwas in rehearsal. Theresa gave herself a week or two off from theatre after her splendid performance in the demanding role of Ruth in Blithe Spirit, then began music rehearsals in early December.

The production—one of three musical versions of the hit movie Shrek, and designed to be performed by children and youth—was originally developed by a teacher at Cache Creek Elementary in spring 2018, but WRAPS was asked to come on board and take it over. One of the first things Susan did was get in touch with all the students who were initially involved, to ask if they were still interested; then a casting call went out to any area kids who might want to take part.

Because it’s designed for younger performers, Shrek the Musical Jr. is an ideal production for any child who wants to dip their toe into theatre and see if it’s for them. Some characters appear in one scene only and have no lines, and performers have the option of speaking or non-speaking, singing or non-singing, dancing or non-dancing roles. Because some of the parts are so small, any performers who want to “double up” on roles can do so, provided there’s enough time to change costumes.

While some roles have few or no lines, others are more demanding. Shrek, the adult Princess Fiona, Donkey, and Lord Farquaad all have quite a few lines in several different scenes, as well as a good deal of singing. Fortunately we have Matthias Sampson (Shrek), Guarangi Benner-Tapia (Princess Fiona), Sarah Onstine (Donkey), and Colin Mastin (Lord Farquaad)—all veterans of past WRAPS productions—on board, as well as past cast members Skylar Dubois, Artemisia Fabre, Skylar Hook, and Vivian McLean.

Although close to 20 kids aged five to 17 have signed on, there are still roles that need to be filled, so several adult WRAPS acting vets step forward. David Dubois, Nancy Duchaine, Jim McLean, Marina Papais, and Jan Schmitz all have speaking (and some singing) roles.

However, word is still spreading about the production, and we have new young cast members at the rehearsal on Jan. 12. Mavourneen has decided to keep the blocking to a minimum at this early stage, mostly confining herself to where actors enter the stage, move to, and then exit from. Fine-tuning will come later, as we get a chance to see who is most comfortable on stage.

It can be frustrating for actors to sit on the sidelines during rehearsal and wait for their cue, but the young cast members are handling it well, watching with interest as the actors on “stage” go through their lines and moves. When the time comes for a song the cast members show how well their rehearsals with Theresa have been going. Dance moves, choreographed by Sloane Hammond (who has been working separately with the dancers), are not yet being incorporated into the rehearsals.

Almost the entire cast is there on Jan. 12, giving us a chance to see everyone together. It becomes apparent that given the age range of the cast, height differences are more apparent than is usual. When Mama, Papa, and Baby Bear enter together for the first time, Mavourneen says thoughtfully “Hmm, Baby Bear is taller than Papa Bear.” She pauses a moment; then, in a voice that only the grown-ups at the table with her can hear, murmurs “What does the milkman look like?”

At another point, when almost the entire cast has to enter the stage, Mavourneen simply says “Come in, get to a platform, and arrange yourselves accordingly.” Once they’ve done that and gone through the scene, she rearranges them by height so everyone is visible, asking each cast member to note who is beside, in front of, and behind them fir future reference.

Walking trees, dancing rats, a dragon who doesn’t (yet) roar, a broomstick horse: Shrek the Musical Jr. promises to be a production unlike anything WRAPS has undertaken recently. A change is as good as a rest, or so the saying goes. We’ll all be putting that to the test for the next two months.

Shrek the Musical Jr. will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances in March 2019.

This article has been reproduced from an article appearing in the Ashcroft – Cache Creek Journal (January 15,2019) by permission of the author.

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