Director adds special touches to Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage's 'Shrek'

 
 
Updated 2/20/2015 8:53 AM
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  • Featuring Clay Nott as Shrek, Marcus Canada as Donkey and Lindsay Spencer as Fiona, Spotlight Youth Theater-DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical" will feel familiar to fans of the movie but offer some surprises, too.

    Featuring Clay Nott as Shrek, Marcus Canada as Donkey and Lindsay Spencer as Fiona, Spotlight Youth Theater-DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical" will feel familiar to fans of the movie but offer some surprises, too. Courtesy of Jennifer Heim

  • Lindsay Spencer of Yorkville stars as Fiona in Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical."

    Lindsay Spencer of Yorkville stars as Fiona in Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical." Courtesy of Jennifer Heim

  • Marcus Canada as Donkey confronts Alyssa Wolfe as Dragon in Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical." The organization stages up to three shows a school year in each of 11 programming locations.

    Marcus Canada as Donkey confronts Alyssa Wolfe as Dragon in Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage's production of "Shrek: The Musical." The organization stages up to three shows a school year in each of 11 programming locations. Courtesy of Jennifer Heim

A beautiful princess, locked in a tower, waits for a dashing prince to rescue her. We all know where the fairy tale is heading, right?

Of course.

An ogre and his talking donkey sidekick free her in a swamp-for-princess bride exchange with a (wink, wink) little liked and little respected king wannabe.

It is, of course, the tale of Shrek being brought to the stage this weekend by Spotlight Youth Theater DuPage under the direction of Jewel Magoon of Wheaton. Performances continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 20 to 22, at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center.

Spotlight's version of "Shrek: The Musical" features a cast of 100 actors ranging in age from 8 to 18. And while the production stays comfortably true to the movie families already know and love, it features fresh music and individual touches added by the lead actors and Magoon herself.

As she prepared for opening night, Magoon took a few moments to share her thoughts on theater and "Shrek."

Q. Tell us about your background in theater.

Magoon: I have done theater as long as I can remember. I moved to Los Angeles and studied comedy for a number of years, specifically sitcoms with renowned coach and author Scott Sedita. I also took improv classes at Groundlings and a smaller private company. Being in Los Angeles changed my focus from theater to on-camera work. Ironically, the first television show I booked was the debut episode of "CSI: NY" opposite Gary Sinise.

I also had the privilege of working alongside Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard on an episode of "House M.D." before relocating back to Chicago. It was during my acting hiatus that I started to direct. Recently, I have started acting professionally again under my stage name, Jewel Christian. Although my projects are on the dramatic side, I continue to love and respect good comedy.

Q. How did you get involved with Spotlight Youth Theater?

A. While volunteering at a church summer camp, the director of the camp production, Suzanne Reeves, took notice of how I worked with the children. She asked me to assistant direct her upcoming Spotlight show. That was the fall of 2007. After assistant directing three times, I was asked to direct. "Shrek" is the fourth show I have directed for Spotlight. The other Spotlight shows I directed were "The Sound of Music," "Aladdin," and "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown."

Q. Why did you choose "Shrek"?

A. It may sound strange but I feel like Shrek chose me.

Q. "Shrek" is a familiar story to so many families. How do you give audiences what they love about the movies yet still make the production fresh?

A. We stay true to the storyline, the characters and the brilliant comedy. The unique thing about this production is the 100 cast members ages 8 to 18 years old. While initially challenging to create stage time for this many young people, the large cast and incredible dance numbers add to the overall zeal and energy of the show.

Q. What challenges have you had in translating an animated movie into a live stage production featuring human characters?

A. I saw the original "Shrek" movie when it came out years ago. After accepting to direct "Shrek," I chose not to watch this version. While staying true to the story and characters, I want my actors to be original. No imitating allowed!

Q. What's something in the show that's taken a lot of work to get "just right"?

A. Good comedy looks effortless but takes a lot of work. Comedy has a specific rhythm and if not played correctly, the joke will fall flat. The leads had to identify the comedic beats and transitions and then execute them in a subtle manner. Coaching them on these techniques was a personal highlight for me.

Q. What do you hope audiences notice or appreciate as they watch the production?

A. There is a ton of work that happens behind the scenes. Parent volunteers are responsible for the costumes, makeup, sets, tech, marketing, refreshments, etc. We also have only seven weekends of rehearsal time to pull this massive production together. It is a true team effort.

Q. What do you worry about most?

A. My main concern is the health of the cast and crew. Our schedule is 10 shows in four days, which would be taxing for professionals, let alone students.

Q. What are you thinking about as the house lights dim and the curtain goes up?

A. I literally say a quick prayer as the lights dim and the curtain goes up. Everything I have done as a director is now out of my hands and I have no choice but to sit and watch. There are no second takes in theater and so many moving pieces. The actors are only a small part of the puzzle. I'm thinking about lights, mics, sound cues, backstage, and the audience reaction. My husband calls it "youth theater on steroids."

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