Barbara Maier, who teaches English full-time at Thunder Mountain High School, had a thought a few months ago that has turned into a production. In her 11th grade English class her students studied parodies. One of the examples used in the curriculum was the movie Shrek.
“I wasn’t aware, until recently, that Shrek is popular among teenagers,” Maier said. “They know all the lines and can sing along to the songs. They understand the story on more than one level. When I found out it was a musical and I thought, ah ha, perfect.”
Maier also serves as the theatre and drama teacher at the high school. So when she saw the kids enjoying Shrek so much she decided to present the musical to the public. Shrek: The Musical will be running at TMHS on March 31-April 2 and April 7-9.
The musical had their audition process in the third week of January and they have been rehearsing since.
Rebecca Hassler was cast as Fiona and recalls how unsure she was about getting the lead role.
“At auditions I basically considered getting the part (Fiona) a far-flung dream,” Hassler said. “I remember telling my mom that I messed up on the vocal audition so I didn’t expect to get close to the lead, but the ensemble would be fun too. When I saw the cast list the next day I stood in the hall and literally cried for five minutes I was so excited.”
Auditions lasted two days. The first day the groups learned three dance segments from choreographer, Janice Hurley, and then performed them in front of a creative team. The next day, the students worked on acting and singing. They prepared 30 seconds of a song and took turns reading the script.
“I have very little vocal training and don’t really consider myself a strong singer,” said Hassler. “The hardest part for me has definitely been carrying such a vocally demanding part. There are seven songs that are either totally me or songs in which I have a very large feature. Thankfully, my cast members are super patient with me and will help me anytime I need. I would say the best part has been getting to know the rest of the cast.”
She went on to say, “I already had several close friends in the cast, so getting to come to rehearsal every day and have fun with them and my new friends is a blast.”
Maier pointed out that people shouldn’t come expecting the musical to be identical to the play.
“The musical has been re-written,” Maier said. “There are not as many questionable ‘potty’ jokes. Those are out, but what’s in is a great message that runs through the musical about being yourself. These weird fairytale characters pop up throughout and keep saying we are not freaks, we deserve good treatment and we are okay with who we are. They say things like ‘I’m sassy and I’m okay with that’ the message of being who you are and owning it speaks volumes in Shrek.”
Maier goes about directing a bit differently. Instead of telling students to stand here, make this motion and recite this line, Maier offers choices. She tells students an area of the stage to stay within and their lines, and lets the cast decide the rest. How they move, say the lines and interact with each other is left up to them.
Maier said it is because “they have power over how their characters act and it adds energy to the performance. My favorite thing is watching when the kids finally become their character, it just clicks and the kid lights up with excitement.”
Remington Burrell plays the character Shrek. He commented about why having the opportunity to produce a musical is important for students.
“It gives a very safe and accepting environment for many students to come together and make something great,” said Burrell. “My favorite part has been chilling with the cast. I love acting, but the cast is what really makes the experience.”
Hassler added, “Art offers lots of opportunities for self-expression and can widen student’s views of the world. Plays and musicals I think are particularly important because they’re a form of art that requires very little training.”
Tickets are on sale at Hearthside Books, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, from cast members and at the door.
Where: Thunder Mountain High School.
When: March 31 at 7 p.m., April 1 at 7 p.m., April 2 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., April 7 at 7 p.m., April 8 at 7 p.m. and April 9 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.