Riverfront Theatre Company is gearing up for their next production, Shrek: The Musical, set to run at Olde Walkerville Theatre in Windsor from May 19-21 and 26-28. The company’s Executive Director, Kristina Garswood, sat down with us to discuss the upcoming production and its relevance to the theatre’s young performers.
Garswood shared that the decision to adapt Shrek for their 19th season was largely driven by the desires of the young performers in the program. “During Covid, the Riverfront kids lost their productions of both Beauty and the Beast and The Secret Garden. They spent the better part of 2 years having things taken away from them, and coping with one disappointment after another. When we polled them to see what they wanted to do for our 19th season, the vote was, overwhelmingly, to do Shrek: The Musical, and we felt we owed them a resounding YES,” Garswood said.
Garswood emphasized the importance of the show’s themes of friendship and acceptance, which align with the values that Riverfront Theatre Company seeks to instill in its young performers. “Shrek underscores everything we like to instill in the kids who participate in our program – unconditional friendship and acceptance – that what makes them special makes them strong, and that above all, they need to stick together to face their obstacles,” she said.
Adapting the beloved animated film for the stage presented its own set of challenges, but Garswood said that she took a character-centered approach to the production. “I wanted to make sure that we spent a lot of time looking at character makeup and motivation that shapes the show. That drives the blocking, the choreography groupings, even the way the set is used. I wanted to be sure that the kids were keeping the big themes uppermost in their minds for the most purposeful delivery of lines and dialogue and songs,” she explained.
She added, “There’s a lot of travel in Shrek, and I knew we have limited space for all the people in the cast backstage. So we had to have a set that lives on the stage, and I was really saved in that regard with the set design that Finn Garswood came up with for us, which is always there, but constantly shifting and changing in that space, creating a sense of flow and movement.”
Audiences can expect a visually stunning production with a cast of 39 young performers, donning spectacular costumes on a bright and beautiful stage. “They can expect an endearing, ridiculous donkey, and a cynical ogre who turns into the most unlikely of heroes. They can expect a band of misfits and outcasts to come together to defend their rights, and, perhaps best of all, they can expect to meet a young princess who discovers that true love’s kiss was never meant to change you – it’s supposed to affirm exactly who you’ve been all along,” Garswood shared.
Shrek: The Musical promises to be a fun-filled, heartwarming production that will remind audiences of the power of friendship, acceptance, and staying true to oneself. It’s a production that is not to be missed, and audiences are encouraged to secure their tickets early.
Garswood also touched on the music and choreography in the production, saying, “People who haven’t seen the stage production before may be surprised that almost all of the music is different from the movie. There’s some lovely music in Shrek, and we look forward to presenting that on stage. We’ll be using recorded tracks for our music – we rarely have the chance to have live music, with our long rehearsal schedule, and the need to have musicians attending regularly to work with us. That’s a pretty big ask.”
The choreography for the production was handled by one of the adult volunteers and some students, who divided the numbers between them. Several of the dancers have taken on the challenge of learning basic tap for the first time for this show. Garswood praised the students, saying, “We are not primarily a dance company, but the kids have worked hard, and they’ve become comfortable with the dance numbers.”
Creating the fantastical world of Shrek on stage was no small feat, but the production team rose to the challenge. “We have a beautiful set of rotating flats, operated by our ‘Devines,’ our living tree spirits who stay on stage throughout almost the entirety of the show, to help with the sense of flow and movement throughout the performance. Our bright, beautiful costumes, and larger-than-life characters will keep the audiences firmly in the fairytale hilarity that Shrek fans have come to expect,” Garswood shared.
When asked what she hopes audiences will take away from their experience with this production, Garswood replied, “I’d really like the audience to leave with that same high that I see the kids experiencing at the end of a run-through. They come through wonderfully uplifted by the teamwork and friendship and closeness that the characters rely on to overcome their obstacles. It’s a feel-good show that turns upside down all the unhealthy stereotypical expectations of fairy-tales, and invites everyone to accept and enjoy the company of thoroughly imperfect beings as wonderful friends and companions and heroes. I think that’s the sort of message that lets everyone walk out the door smiling.”
This youth theatre company, entirely staffed by volunteers, has been a prominent presence in Windsor-Essex community theatre for 19 seasons. Garswood describes the company’s philosophy as “acceptance and mutual support and encouragement.” The goal of the company is to make theatre fully accessible for their audiences and children to experience without barriers. Garswood notes that the company’s “cold penguin to the middle” philosophy, where everyone is accepted and supported, is a significant factor in the company’s success.
The Riverfront Theatre Company has a long history of providing accessible theatre experiences for students in Windsor-Essex. They hold school shows of most of their productions, provide affordable live theatrical experiences, and have even gone into schools to help prepare students for the shows they will see. Garswood believes that youth theatre is an excellent tool for equipping children with skills that will serve them well beyond the stage. “Youth theatre is incredible for equipping kids with tremendous confidence, team spirit, speaking skills, reliability, and adaptability.”
In addition to their upcoming production of “Shrek: The Musical,” Riverfront Theatre Company has several other exciting productions in store for audiences. Next season is their 20th anniversary season, and they plan to tackle entirely new projects. They will be producing an original adaptation of “The Velveteen Rabbit” in December, “A Wrinkle in Time” in January, and a musical they have yet to officially announce in May.
Tickets for Shrek are available at the Olde Walkerville Theatre box office or oldewalkervilletheatre.com.