December 01st, 2023

shrek rehearsal spotlightCottonwood Elementary School students rehearse a number from the upcoming “Shrek: The Musical Jr.” production. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


AUTHOR’S NOTE: The names of the students mentioned in this story have been changed in order to protect their privacy. 

Those looking for some ogre-sized talent will have no farther to look than Cottonwood Elementary School later this month. 

Cottonwood Elementary School will be performing 'Shrek: The Musical Jr.' Thursday, April 27 in James Maskus Auditorium at Liberal High School. The show will start at 7 p.m., with the doors opening at 6:30 p.m., and admission is free. The show, based on the 2001 Dreamworks film, follows fierce ogre Shrek as he embarks on a quest that ultimately changes his life in a variety of ways. 

“Since becoming the music teacher here, I've discovered the students haven't really learned a lot about Broadway and that genre, and I come from a more theatre background, so I thought it would be great to do a show. We looked at 'Frozen' and 'Moana' and then 'Shrek,' which the students REALLY liked the idea of,” Cottonwood Elementary School music teacher Aspen Jaramillo said of picking out the show. “I went and talked to our principal, Ms. Mettlen, and asked if it would be okay to put on a musical since this is the first one this school has done, and she was completely supportive and on board with it. I decided to do just a one night only performance because since this is a younger age group, they can get tired easily and I want them to have as much energy as possible, and doing just one performance also makes it a lot more special for people to come out and support these students. We got everything together with the scripts and all of that, then we did auditions in January, and then we started rehearsals in February. It's been a whirlwind, but the students have been so great and they're so excited for the opportunity to do this show for everyone, and I'm so, so proud of them.”

Cast members “Jane” and “John” also expressed excitement about participating in the show. 

“I like all the dancing we do, I like all the humor, and I like how exciting the show is for everyone. I'm excited every day to be in this,” John said. “I was the first one to get my prop, and it's been really fun to play with. There's also a part where I'm supposed to lead the fairytale creatures to somewhere, and that's really exciting because I'm the one who's the boss. I like being a leader and I get to do a really neat menacing walk and it's just really fun.”

“We started rehearsal in February and it's been a lot of fun every day,” Jane added. “The backstage crew is awesome, they make sure everyone is going where they need to go, and that always makes me really excited because when you go onstage, it makes you nervous but also really excited to do your part in that scene.”

“Jane” and “John” added they are especially excited to keep working on the show. 

“I'm really excited for the costumes. We haven't gotten to practice in them yet, so I'm excited to do that. I'm really excited to be onstage, it's been so much fun!” Jane said. 

“I'm excited for the funnier scenes, they've been really fun to do. I've really learned you have to try new things – even if you get scared, you have to push through it and do your best at it,” John said.

With the success of “Shrek,” Jaramillo said there could be even more of the students’ musical talent to see in the future. 

“Since this is the first time the school's doing this, I wasn't sure how everything would go, but everything has been great so far and I think it would be great to do other shows in the future because these students are so awesome,” Jaramillo said.

With opening night being in just a few weeks, Jaramillo said there is a mix of nerves and excitement. 

“There's a mix of nerves and excitement, but I would say the excitement is way, way above the nerves. I have had some students who have come up to me and told me they're nervous and unsure about being onstage, but I always reassure them they've done amazing in rehearsals, and that pep talk gets them back on their feet,” Jaramillo said. “We do have little pep talks before rehearsal to get everyone on the same page, and that really helps them. Sometimes, I have the bar set really high for myself, and there have been a few small moments where I've had to remind myself to be gentle with the students and slow things down a little bit so they can get everything. As long as they have fun, that's what makes me happy, and seeing their enjoyment in coming to rehearsal every day and absolutely nailing their songs and everything, that exceeds the bar. I've told the students there will be times when rehearsal doesn't go 100 percent like it's supposed to, but that's okay, and there might even be a couple small mishaps on show night. But I've told them even if something does happen, just smile and push through it, because that's what proves how great they are.”

Jaramillo said it has been great watching the young cast come out of their shells during the rehearsal process. 

“My favorite thing has been seeing the students come out of their shells, because some of them are usually quiet and shy and kind of nervous, but they come into rehearsal every day and they're excited and have their lines ready and everything else, and it's great,” Jaramillo said. “All the students love the choreography and love all the funnier moments, and they're excited to be on stage and having everyone watch something they've worked so hard on. It's been great watching them grow from the time we did auditions through now, and again, I'm so, so proud of them. It's going to be a great show, and these students have worked so hard on it. There's some hidden jokes for the adults throughout the show, and the students have really enjoyed working on those moments and really perfecting their timing to make sure it hits the audience the way it's supposed to. These students have done amazing putting this show, and I hope everyone in the community comes out that night and has a good laugh and sees all the hard work that's been put into this show. It'll be a great means of support for these students, and we'd love to see everyone out there!”