This past weekend I got to do one of my all time favorite things - I got to go to a play at the State Theatre. Ever since I was a little girl the whole aura of the theatre has given me chills of excitement. From the fading velvet seats to the hand painted ceilings the State Theatre has been my home away from home since my first show in 1998.
Although Eau Claire has quite a few different theatre organizations, the one that is dearest to my heart is the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre. Under the direction of Wayne Marek the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre has been bringing the theatrical experience to the Chippewa Valley since 1989 and their 25th season ended with a brand new musical, Shrek.
From the lively dance numbers to the softer ballads this show really is one of the most entertaining shows to come off of Broadway. The ECCT cast of Shrek did not disappoint in bringing this animated script and score to life right here in Eau Claire. From Shrek himself to the smallest elf it was clear that everyone was truly excited and dedicated to the production. I giggled and smiled through all the large cast numbers such as “Freak Flag” and even, I’m not afraid to admit, teared up during Shrek’s lament “When Words Fail.”
Of course my emotional response may have also been due to the fact that Shrek, aka Michael Ekenstedt, a long time member of my “Theatre Family” was soon leaving the Chippewa Valley to go to grad school at the University of Southern Denmark where he’ll be studying Maritime Archaeology. Although I’m glad he’ll get to embark on his dream educational adventure, he sure will be missed by his Theatre Family. I was able to ask Michael a few questions about his Shrek experience, here’s what he had to say:
Q: What was the best part about being Shrek?
A: Oh gosh starting out with a hard one right out of the gate... There's really so much I love about the role. I have some beautiful songs and very dramatic scenes, and yet the character also is very slapstick allowing me to indulge in a lot of facets of acting over a very short period of time. That being said if I'm honest it's the kids. After every show the cast goes out front and I'm simply blown away by how many hugs Shrek gets from young people who think I'm the real big guy. As cheesy as it sounds, knowing I made them smile and laugh is really the best in the world.
Q: What was the most challenging part about being Shrek?
A: By far the hardest part of becoming Shrek would be being him off stage. Between prep, applying 3 layers of antiperspirant to my face/head to make sure I don't sweat off my makeup, then adding makeup, and prosthetics - going from myself to Shrek takes about two hours and forty five minutes. Then we add a fat suite and clothes to the whole thing. When I'm on stage I don't ever notice it, but the second I'm off stage I definitely feel the heat. Fortunately I'm lucky enough to have wonderful cast mates and an amazing backstage crew who hand me ice packs and water (I go through about 2 gallons a night) as soon as I'm off stage.
Q: Do you have a favorite song in the show? Favorite scene?
A: It's going to sound cliche but in this show I love the whole thing. Over the course of the last 6 weeks every scene has been my favorite because there's so much variety to the show. I mean where else can you find a show that over the course of ten minuets you go from a farting competition to a Barry White like love song to a sweet song about what happens when you love someone but words fail? It really does have it all.
Q: What’s your favorite ECCT memory?
A: Every opening night. Something always goes wrong and nerves are on edge, but it's those times in the trenches that give the cast a real sense of camaraderie and forge amazing friendships and memories that last a lifetime.
Q: What’s the thing you're going to miss most about the Chippewa Valley?
A: The people. The Chippewa Valley is filled with some of the most amazingly talented, kind, and humble people who would give you the shirt off their own backs without blinking. I can't even begin to express how lucky I feel to have grown up in this community where there are so many opportunities for people to try new things, and a culture that is so welcoming and encouraging of weirdos like myself.