COAL CITY – In an otherworldly setting filled with bright colors and makeshift trees, a 30-foot pink dragon steals the show as Coal City High School students practice for their production of “Shrek The Musical” based on the 2001 Dreamworks film “Shrek” and William Steig’s 1990 book “Shrek!”
“This is a huge show,” Director Jack Micetich said. “Based on the fact that we are creating a second world, it’s not what most are used to seeing on stage.”
While most people think about the movie’s main characters – Shrek, a big green ogre, Fiona, the fiesty princess, and Shrek’s sidekick, Donkey – it’s Dragon who steals the show in the Coal City auditorium.
It takes six student puppeteers to make the 30-foot smoke-breathing pink dragon come to life.
“It takes a lot of practice to get the movements right,” said student Michael Steffes, head puppeteer. “It’s an awkward thing to do.”
The puppeteers have had to put in extra practice, coming in before and staying after the rest of the 55-student cast practice.
“My favorite thing about the dragon is the surprise element it brings,” Steffes said. “It breathes smoke, it’s wings move and it looks like it’s floating in air.”
Micetich said he found a newspaper article about a school in Spokane, Wash., who created the dragon and he contacted that school so Coal City could also experience the magic of the oversized puppet.
“We found the school and contacted the director to rent it, from here it will go to Canada and then is scheduled to be rented out for years, I’m sure,” Micetich said.
Steffes will be one of two puppeteers at the head of the dragon and is responsible to move the mouth in time with the song sung by student Rachel Drauden who will sing “Forever” from backstage.
In addition to moving the mouth to look believable, he also has to control the blinking of the eyes and the smoke which emits from the dragon’s mouth.
Two more puppeteers will be at the midsection of Dragon to operate its wings. And the remaining two puppeteers will be at tail end and control the tail, as well as the color of the dragon’s eyes, which can change from red to yellow with the flip of a switch.
Drauden, who also plays Mama Ogre, Shrek’s mother, in the opening scene of the play, said being the voice of Dragon is something she enjoys.
Micetich said the cast originally planned to have Drauden as the head puppeteer, but found that she couldn’t perform the song with the weight of the dragon resting on a band harness that the puppeteers must wear.
“It was hard to get the breath support while wearing a drum harness,” Drauden said.
She said while she enjoys being in front of people on the stage, she doesn’t care about being off stage as long as she gets to sing.
Co-director Sherfy Browning has been directing shows at Coal City High School for 30 years and said this is one of the more challenging shows they’ve performed.
“This show is challenging because it’s so much fantasy,” she said. “It’s a much larger scale show.”
Micetich is a 2009 graduate of Coal City High School who performed in musicals during his time as a student at the high school, and he is excited to be back in the role of teacher and director.
“It’s a cool experience,” Micetich said. “Theater was my outlet when I was here, it’s given me a lot of enjoyment.”
He said as a creative team they try to do the show on a larger scale each year and just like he was, he wants the students to be excited by the time opening night arrives.
“We try to bring a professional regional vibe to the stage,” Micetich said. “It’s on the students, we set high expectations and they continue to live up to them.”
If You Go
What: Shrek the Musical
When: 7 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; and at 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Auditorium of Coal City High School Auditorium, 655 W. Division St.
Cost: Admission is $5.