The River Becomes the Swamp

Shrek: The Musical Opens on April 20

Ogres are like onions: they have a lot of layers. And Riverside’s production of Shrek: the Musical does, too.

The Riverside auditorium will be filled with music and lights on April 20-22 for its annual spring musical. In addition to the theater department, the dance, tech theater, and music departments will also contribute to the production.

To audition, actors had to perform a dance, a monologue, and sing 16 bars – about 30 seconds – of music.

“I have always enjoyed theater and music things so having that combined aspect here is a nice opportunity for getting into it for the future,” Sophomore Ayla Wolfson said. 

Wolfson has five roles in the production. Although she originally hoped for Fiona, she has found some advantages to having a variety of roles.

“It’s nice because I can keep going on stage,” she said. “I don’t have to stay backstage the whole time so it will be nice to actually be able to do stuff.”

Playing multiple characters also stretches Wolfson’s capacities as an actor.

“It is a little difficult pulling out different personalities for different characters,” she said.

Sophomore Sophia Ventimiglia will be playing the role of Princess Fiona despite only auditioning for the ensemble. She has mixed emotions about playing such a major role.

“I’m pretty nervous but also excited,” she said. “[It’s difficult to] get over my own nerves about the whole thing. Getting out of my own head and letting myself enjoy what’s going on is probably the most challenging part for me.”

Ventimiglia will not let her fears keep her away from the stage.

“I love performing, honestly. It’s one of my favorite things to do,” she said.

Freshman Abigail Deskins, who will play multiple roles, joined the musical to pursue her passion for dance. 

“I love to dance and I have been considered by my theater teacher and dance teacher to continue doing the musical.”

Some actors are designated to do more dancing and others focus instead on acting or singing depending on their preferences. Deskins’ roles require some acting but are primarily dance focused.

“I am so excited for our tap number,” Deskins said. “That’s my favorite part so far. The dancing is my absolute favorite.”

Although the actors love what they do, it takes a lot of time and dedication to produce a musical.

“Everyone has their own schedule so it’s difficult to get everyone working together,” Deskins said. “Not everyone can make it to every rehearsal so being able to work together and give each other patience and being able to catch up and make up for us is the most difficult part.”

“We put a lot of work into it,” Ventimiglia said. “All of our teachers have gone above and beyond to help us and I think it’s really shaping up to be really good.”

Wolfson agrees and urges students to come out and see the result of their hard work.

“We’ve been working really hard on it,” she said. “Being able to come and see something that is mostly student run is supportive.”

When people imagine a musical, their minds paint a scene of vibrant sets with actors in colorful costumes belting out bars. But preparation for the production extends beyond the sets, costumes and stage to the auditorium floor.

“The orchestra pit has all the musicians so it’s live music as the actors are on the stage,” orchestra teacher Sara Moore said.

Advanced students from the orchestra will play string and advanced students from band will contribute wind and percussion. Professionals will be hired to play parts that students cannot cover. 

“The music is extremely hard,” Moore said. “The difficulty level is way beyond anything that we do in class because every song is in a different key signature, every song has a different tempo, [and] there’s a lot of songs to learn.”

There will be between 50 and 60 songs in total, and rehearsals last for two hours three days a week in February and March. In April, it increased to three hour long daily rehearsals.

“It’s intense because it’s a lot of parts coming together,” Moore said. “It’s the music, it’s the singing, it’s the acting, it’s the singing, it’s the tech crew. It’s a lot.”

In addition to the countless hours of rehearsal, the production team has to troubleshoot all sorts of issues.

“The most challenging aspect is the set design: creating this fantasy world on stage that is visually stimulating,” theater teacher Monique Taylor said.

Junior set designer Caitlyn Doughty agrees.

“We are not an art-focused school, so our wood and screws and other things that we would need,” Doughty said. “We have limited quality and quantity.”

Despite the challenges, Doughty loves what she does. 

“I got interested in the idea of set design over quarantine,” she said. “Seeing these walls come up and the tower built is very fun.”

A technical theater student creates the set for Shrek: The Musical. The play premieres on April 20. Photo by Tate Gasch.

Set design makes the stage come alive but without believable costumes it would be a world with no characters.

“I may have to go out of state to get the costumes,” Taylor said. “The biggest challenge is costuming the full cast and also the ogre makeup. Fiona has to change from a regular girl to an ogre back to a regular girl to an ogre again.”

Although many students are a part of the production, Taylor wishes participation was higher.

“It always seems like we have just enough,” she said. “We could have used five more people so people wouldn’t have to double up as much.”

After putting in a lot of work as an individual department, the teachers are excited to see it all come together.

“I like seeing the process of seeing the first rehearsal where everything is together,” orchestra teacher Sara Moore said. ‘It’s a huge collaboration and it’s very complex. And the students usually really enjoy seeing each other in their element.”

“I’m most excited for the kids to participate. It’s always fun to have the kids come together and put on the show. It’s a learning process for all of us,” Taylor said. “I’m excited about the costumes, the look of it. I’ve never done fantasy like this or non-realistic plays.”

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