SHREK!

Director Cal Chiang Brings the Famous Film to the Stage
For two weekends this summer, the stage at Odell Williamson Auditorium will be taken over by an Ogre, a Donkey and many, many Fairy Tale Creatures as Brunswick Little Theatre presents Shrek the Musical.

Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. on July 24, 25, and July 31 and August 1. Sunday matinee performances are July 26 and August 2 and 3 p.m. All shows will be at Odell Williamson Auditorium on the campus of Brunswick Community College. Tickets are available from the Odell Williamson box office or through http://www.bccowa.com/.

Thanks to a hugely successful animated film, the story is familiar to many. Shrek is an ogre living an unassuming life in his swamp, when a group of displaced Fairy Tale Creatures invades his space. To help them return to their homes, or at least get them out of his swamp, Shrek agrees to help Lord Farquaad, would-be ruler of Duloc, find a Princess to marry. Along the way, he’ll make friends with Donkey, a talkative and hilarious sidekick for the story’s hero. They fight off a dragon and rescue Princess Fiona from a tower; she was cursed at birth and must have her true love’s kiss to break it. In the end, it’s Shrek and Fiona who find true love in each other, and everyone but Lord Farquaad lives happily ever after.

The musical is much more than just a fairy tale, though. “The show is very well written, and it appeals to mass audiences of all ages,” Shrek Director Cal Chiang said. “It tells a story but there is also a message delivered.”

Paul Homick plays Lord Farquaad, one of the lead characters in the show. Homick said the show is full of life and energy. But it also has undertones of tolerance and unconditional love. “There is a very strong message of accepting people for who they are as well, which gives this show a deeper meaning for all walks of life,” he said.

Homick is just one of several actors in the show who will be sharing the theater experience with family this summer.

EnsembleDance

It’s a family affair

In the summer, school is out and families have more time to spend together. For these theater families, that means dozens of rehearsals, costume fittings, making props, and learning how to change actresses from one costume into another in 30 seconds flat. This year, Brunswick Little Theatre’s summer show is full of families. Adrian and Jen Iapalucci will be on stage with their son Max. Jen’s sister Elie Erickson is also in the cast, and their mother Anne Richmond is helping with costumes. Also in the cast are siblings Lyla and Spencer Ballantine and mother and son Melissa and Brady Warren. Dan Gedman is in the role of Donkey, and daughter Kat is in the ensemble. Natalie and Gina Flow play various characters in the cast, while their father Shain is building the sets. Homick’s wife Allison plans to help out backstage and their 11-year-old son Gabriel is one of the children in the ensemble; Gabriel also appears as Little Shrek in the musical’s opening number.

Chiang said that’s one of the best parts of doing a musical. “It draws in the community, be they family or friends,” he said. “It’s something to share, which I think is very important.”

Ten-year-old Max Iapalucci has appeared on stage with his family several times, and he’s also started performing in theater groups in Wilmington. But he is glad to be in another Brunswick Little Theatre (BLT) show with his parents.

“It’s fun that we all get to be in a show together, and it’s something we can talk about. And my parents don’t have to sit around and wait for me when I’m at rehearsals,” he said.

This will be the third time Homick and his son are performing together, and he said he loves the experience of working with his son.

“It is an honorable experience and humbling, being able to share something I love with the people I love. I look forward to watching Gabriel grow with his talent. He watches me from the wings in every production for every show and it makes me so proud,” he said. During rehearsals, Gabriel often tries to fill in with his father’s dialogue if he’s not available.

 

Homick works fulltime as a paramedic and is also a certified firefighter. Juggling work, family and rehearsal schedules can be difficult. At one rehearsal, Homick came straight from work and literally ran in mid-scene, right into the middle of the group and his dialogue. But the theatre seems to be a part of life for this family. Both parents have worked as characters for Walt Disney World in Florida; Paul also worked in productions at Universal Studios. Gabriel is following in his parents’ footsteps and has already appeared in stage productions at Thalian Hall in Wilmington.

A cast of 38, plus costume changes, equals 167 costumes

Many of the ensemble actors in Shrek play more than one role. Ryleigh Ingram is Young Fiona and also the Ugly Duckling. Max Iapalucci is Tweedle Dum and Grumpy. And his mother, Jen Iapalucci will be in two trios — the Three Little Pigs and Three Blind Mice. She’s also in charge of costumes. With 38 actors in the cast and several of them having multiple roles, this is no small task. In fact, she’ll need 167 costumes for the whole show.

Iapalucci has been hard at work for a couple months. She ordered fur for Donkey’s costume but wasn’t satisfied with how it looked so it became part of the rats’ costumes instead. Some items, such as Go-Go boots for the Blind Mice, were used in previous BLT performances. The Wicked Witch’s dress and Little Red Riding Hood’s outfit from Into the Woods and Dorothy’s sepia gingham dress will all make an appearance in Shrek. Family, friends and any have donated some pieces, such as shirts and pants, and everyone involved with the show. Others, such as all the Duloc Citizens, are being made from scratch.

Two Saturdays in June, volunteers met at BLT to work on sewing projects such as the Duloc Citizens costumes, which are appropriately uniform as Lord Farquaad likes conformity.  Volunteers not so comfortable with a sewing machine also helped by assembling rat hats and other costume pieces. Iapalucci solicited donations of old baseball hats and showed the volunteers how to cut out pieces of fur to wrap the hats. Folding it just so after flipping it around the back of the hat “magically” created ears, Iapalucci demonstrated on the first costume workday.

“You just ‘shooz’ it, like this,” she said as she expertly tucked the fur into place. Pink pom-pom noses, pieces of fishing line for whiskers (eyes would be added later) and some pink spray paint for the inside of the ears and by the end of the afternoon, there were more than 30 rat hats ready for tappers.

Iapalucci does have a couple seamstresses helping out, but she has taken on a lot herself as well.

“The bulk of the work is being done on my kitchen table, while my very patient family steps over piles of fabric and gamely serve as mannequins on occasion,” she said.

Shrek is a hit Broadway show but was also a popular animated movie, which means the audience will expect the lead characters to look a certain way and would likely be disappointed if they don’t. Fiona just has to be in a green dress and Lord Farquaad has to have shoulder-length black hair.

“It would be like doing the Wizard of Oz, and having Dorothy in something other than blue gingham,” she said.

But, Iapalucci said, there is more room for creativity in costuming some of the supporting roles, especially the animal-based characters.

“For example, we have the Three Little Pigs in this show, and I’m not sitting here making three plush pig suits, but I am making costumes that will be recognizable as pigs,” she said. “For me, the costumes where I can let my imagination loose are the most fun.”

When she’s designing costumes, Iapalucci said she takes a lot of things into consideration. In Shrek, there are 24 actors who have to change from Villagers to Fairy Tale Creatures, many of which involve multiple layers, wigs or hairpieces, specialty shoes, tights, etc. They’ll all have to make that change while Shrek is on stage, singing a song that’s been timed at slightly less than two minutes. Costume changes like these have to be factored into all the designs. Maybe an actor can layer tights or other costume pieces. Maybe the actor is experienced and can handle a quick change without a lot of help. Iapalucci said she uses a lot of elastic waists, and Velcro instead of buttons or stitching. She also tries to avoid zippers that can jam, buttons or anything that involves a lot of buckles.

Once the costumes are finished though, the costume mistress’ job is not complete.

“Costumes require constant attention,” she said. “They tear, they lose buttons, they, let’s be honest, start to smell after the actors sweat in them for a couple of nights.”

A team of dressers will be backstage for all the shows, ready to make repairs and working to keep the dressing rooms organized. Besides being onstage for her own roles, Iapalucci will also keep tabs on how the costumes are holding up throughout the two weekends of performances.

“I will have a repair station for anything that has to be fixed on the fly, and I do anticipate leaving the theater every night during the run with an armful of items to be repaired and cleaned. It’s just the nature of the beast,” she said.

Making the stage into a swamp, and a town, and a tower

Shain Flow has been in the construction business for 30 years. He got into theater and building sets when his daughters, Natalie and Gina, started performing.

“My kids were into theater, so they dragged me into it kicking and screaming,” he said. But since they drug him into it, he has been enjoying the experience. This is his third show working with BLT, and he said that he is continually learning, which is one of the theater group’s missions.

“I’m learning all the way,” he said. “I learned a lot working with my mentor Paul Bertelsen on Beauty and the Beast.”

As BLT does with costumes and props, Flow tries to repurpose set pieces, lumber and hardware used for other productions. The tree from Into the Woods was used again in the Let’s PLAY! And the Workshop performance of Winnie the Pooh.

“We try to use all the foundations for sets in other shows and reconfigure them for another one, change them as needed. We’re a frugal bunch,” Flow said.

Flow said for this show, he’s really a set builder, or carpenter, not the set designer. Chiang gave him sketches for the sets, he explained. He’s been working on set pieces in the carport under his house, and will move pieces to BLT as that space gets crowded. He said building the sets has been taking pretty much “all his spare time” for three months.

Approximately a week before the show, volunteers will move all the set pieces into the Odell Williamson Auditorium and put them together. Ginger Hedbloom will serve as set decorator and will come up with the color schemes to fit the show’s general look and theme, and dress up the set, all of which Flow calls the hard part.

“I don’t do the hard part. I do what comes easily,” Flow said.

It’s not a musical without the orchestra pit

Besides the actors on stage, the director, stage manager, stagehands and everyone else working backstage, this show must also have musicians. Musical Director Michael Stringer brings decades of experience to the show, in performance and in musical theater. This will be his eleventh show with BLT, with his repertoire including Into the Woods, Beauty and the Beast, Wizard of Oz, Music Man, among others. He’s also played in the orchestra pit for the theater for shows such as the 1940s Radio Show and Fiddler on the Roof. Eight musicians will provide the background for this story, playing piano, flute, French horn, trombone, bass, drums, synthesizer and guitar, which is featured prominently in the score. Stringer will play the alto sax himself.

Stringer also plays with and sometimes conducts the Brunswick Concert Band, which is a task completely different from serving as musical director for a stage show.

“With the concert band the only element involved is the music, whereas with musical theater, everything revolves around the staging,” he said. Stringer works with the cast from the very first rehearsal. It’s critical that he knows the timing of the dialogue, the blocking (directions for actors’ movements onstage and their entrances and exits) and the dances. He often rewrites portions of the music, removing or adding to sections as needed to fit what will be happening on the stage. And then he’ll have to do that again when rehearsals move into the venue, because the size of the space affects the timing of everything. Rehearsals have mostly been held at the space BLT is leasing on River Road, just outside Southport, a much smaller space than the stage at Odell Williamson Auditorium.

Stringer added that while the musicians are reading their music, the actors are not.

“In performance, you have many more variables to contend with. Sometimes lights don’t come up, props malfunction, someone forgets a line or a cue – all this has to be dealt with on the fly – hopefully without anyone noticing.”

The pit usually begins rehearsing soon after the cast starts, though the two groups won’t get together until shortly before the performances. There are times when Stringer really needed to be in two places at once though. Thanks to modern technology and the fact that BLT now has its own place, he could do just that. On some nights, Stringer worked with the musicians in one of the separate classroom buildings. Meanwhile, the cast practiced in the main theater building across the sidewalk, singing and dancing to a track previously recorded by Stringer and rehearsal pianist Lynette Nobles.

And how will they blend what they’ve been learning and working on separately for months?

“Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more,” Stringer said. It’s similar to Chiang’s explanation of how the cast learns all of the dialogue, lyrics and dance moves.

That was great. Let’s do it again.

Families

As they started the rehearsal schedule in earnest, the cast quickly figured out that hearing Chiang say “that’s great” doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be taking it from the top one, or six, more times. “I often tell them to do it one more time, again, again, again, again…” he said.

Chiang has been dancing for more than 50 years. At one point in his life, he thought about dancing on stage professionally, but he realized he did not like to do the same thing over and over again. He got into education, and realized he really enjoyed teaching dance and theater. His theater background is broad, ranging from working with students of all ages to doing cabaret shows in New York City. He and wife Marty moved to St. James two years ago, and this is his first production with BLT.

“It’s been a fantastic collaboration, working with this cast and being part of the new space,” Chiang said. “Theater has always been therapy for me. I really feel it’s a place where you can be as creative as you want to be.”

Chiang has directed Shrek before, working with a group of high school and college students in New York during a summer. So it’s not the first time he’s taught these dance moves or worked with this script and score.

There are a number of ensemble numbers, with the cast performing as Fairy Tale Creatures or Duloc Citizens. Some will have their own dance number within an ensemble while others will tap dance across stage as rats, following the Pied Piper. Some actors will be Duloc Guards while still others appear onstage as Knights. The dancing involves moving feet and hands, sometimes at the same time; all while singing and making the appropriate facial expressions.

Chiang said it’s been wonderful working with this cast. “There’s a lot of talent here. They’re very supportive of each other.” Chiang is excited to continue refining the show until it opens July 24, when he hopes to share all the cast’s hard work with a large audience.

“I think it’s a great show. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s silly,” Chiang said. “And who knew fairy tale creatures could dance?”

 

 

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