The Making of Shrek, Behind-the-scenes magic aplenty

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


It’s not easy being green. Just ask Jonathon Moser who plays Shrek in the eponymous musical opening Friday at the Elkader Opera House. It takes about an hour to transform the McGregor chiropractor and Opera House stage regular into the loveable neon-colored ogre. But that’s nothing compared to the two hours it took makeup and set design wizard Cary Kann to complete the first-ever transformation.

Kann has learned a few tricks and shortcuts during rehearsals to cut the process by half. For example, he can achieve the Shrek look using considerably less glue. Less glue means that Moser is a bit more comfortable in his “new” skin.

The making of Shrek begins with Moser pulling a latex cap over his head to mat down his hair. Next, a foam mask is glued to his face and blended in around the eyes and mouth using a variety of brushes dipped in mixture of green face paint and castor oil. According to Kann, using a partial mask lets Moser show facial expression, which would be limited if a full mask was used.

But the partial mask is not without its challenges. Kann said it has been challenging to get the masked fitted around Moser’s eyes and mouth. Too much glue restricts the actor’s expression and too little glue 

“It’s been a real learning experience and a lot of fun,” Kann said.

Makeup hasn’t been the only challenge for this popular musical. The show also features one of the most ambitious sets ever created by the OHP team. Clark Ott, who has worked nearly 40 sets since joing OHP in 1988, explained that “Shrek” has 18 different “drops” that are used to create scenes. There’s one for Fiona’s castle, another for Shrek’s swamp and so own. Sometimes several drops are used simultaneously to create a scene. 

“We have trees on three different drops to show a deep forest,” said Ott. “The trees get smaller the further back the row is in order to show perspective.”

Each drop needs an equal amount of counterweight, which the design team creates by melting lead, pouring it and then cutting the weight to the right size. The show also has seven major set pieces that were built to move on and off stage.

“Probably the biggest indicator of ambition is when we started working on the set,” Ott continued. “We’ve been working every weekend since the middle of July, and some people have put in a lot of time during the week. We usually start about six to eight weeks before a show but we started about 10 or 11 weeks out on this one.”

The sheer number of drops and set pieces is just one challenge faced by the design team. An equally daunting task is making sure everyone in the theater can see the sets.

“The deeper on stage it is, the more to the center things need to be so that people on the sides and balcony can see,” Ott explained. “We wanted a tall tower but it couldn’t be too tall or the people in the balcony wouldn’t see the actors’ heads. Not everything can be set up to be seen by everyone in the audience but we try to make sure that the major things that are necessary for the show are in view of all.”

Ott would love to someday work on a set for “Wicked.” Until then, “Shrek” will go down as his third favorite set. Coming in first and second are “Noises Off,” which had a clever revolving set, and “The Wizard of Oz,” which was filled with magic and the illusion of a tornado.

The production opens October 1 with a 2 p.m. matinee. There will also be a matinee on October 4. Evening performances (7:30 p.m.)  are scheduled for October 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. Tickets are available at Moser Pharmacy, Elkader; by email to; or by calling 563-873-2378.

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