Humboldt Light Opera Company brings 'Shrek' to life

Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer

Beacon Correspondent

According to Humboldt Light Opera Company Artistic Director Carol Ryder, "Shrek: the Musical" is like one big party -- with a message.

Ryder, who in addition to her normal role has also taken on the duties of stage director and costume designer, recently explained the technical issues behind the show.

"We found out that 'Shrek' was available for community productions last October and so we decided to write for the rights to perform it here locally," she said. The rights to perform the show came from Music Theater International, but they didn't come cheap, costing HLOC $9,000. The fee is calculated on your location and theater size, so HLOC pays for each seat for each production.

Then comes the production costs. The dragon was started in January along with the special effects. The dragon is a 27-foot-long puppet operated by four puppeteers. The dragon had to be so specific to be able to sing. It has changing eye color, lashes that move, and the ability to perform and move like it is singing. "The physical production of the dragon began in March with Shrek's mask beginning in April. That mask alone cost $3,500 to create an interactive visually realistic mask," Ryder said.

The list goes on and on for the detailed creations they put together to make this musical unlike any other. Pinocchio's nose had to grow, Humpty Dumpty had to be a comfortable suit to sing and dance in, and pigs had to be plump and active, to name a few.

"This play has been a lot of work, but mostly just amazing creative fun," Ryder said. "This is not a kids show alone it is a show for the whole family."

The role of Fiona is played by 18-year HLOC veteran Hannah Jones of Fortuna who began her work the company alongside her mother and sister. Originally Jones was a member of HLOC's KidCo, where she performed with Shrek actor Tristin Roberts. Roberts now lives in Portland, but returned to Humboldt County to perform in this production.

Jones, now 28, lost her mother shortly after her 2006 HLOC performance as Peter in "Peter Pan."

"Playing Peter Pan was an absolutely magical experience, but after losing my mother who I had performed almost every summer production side by side I needed to take a step back," Jones said.

In November Jones was approached by Ryder about playing the part of Fiona. Jones knew she had to do the part. "I have been a bit emotional and grief-stricken, as I always have done these things with my mother, but an altogether unforgettable and exciting experience," Jones said.

Roberts and Jones have remained close friends over the years.

"It has been, yet again, a magical experience performing with Tristin," Jones said. "I have been having a huge blast and now I am just trying to savor it all, because I know I only have two more weeks left."

Roberts has been living in Portland living with his wife who is attending nursing school.

"I was contacted by Ryder that the rights were coming out and she asked if I would do it," Roberts said. "Knowing that my family is down here and owns Jitter Bean, I knew I wanted to do it."

In between productions you can find Tristan at one of the Jitter Beans working for the family business and making that perfect cup of coffee. Roberts attributes the ability to do this play to the support of his parents and his loving wife, Jazzie Roberts.

Jones said this is one production the community shouldn't miss.

"One would have to travel down to San Francisco and pay much, much more to experience performances like those that can be seen in this show and in this very small town," she said. "I'm very proud of that."

Roberts said the production has a positive message.

"Shrek has had to put up a big cover over who he is and he is this gentle giant," he said. "Shrek has layers and you see that in the production. Shrek believes he has to run and hide from everyone and he develops a relationship with the donkey because he is also an outcast. Shrek and the donkey come to realize that there is life out there and they are OK. There is someone out there for them and it is OK to be you. The message is you are beautiful and the world does not decide who you are."

Jones offered her take on Fiona, saying that the musical allows deeper exploration of characters and feelings through music and lyrics.

"The princess character is really important to the story," Jones said. "She is very different from your average fairytale princess. She has been conditioned to believe, by all of the most popular and famous fairytales, that she must be proper, well behaved, beautiful, and she MUST kiss a handsome prince in order to live happily ever after. Her story in the show is all about finding the courage to go against her rules, and what she's been told she is 'supposed' to do instead of doing what she feels is right for her as an individual."

Jones plans to continue performing in HLOC productions.

"I would say ... pursue your dreams and go after what you want!" she said. "I am married and a mother of two who typically spends her days at home in Fortuna, raising her two sons. I have managed to keep them my number one priority, while also starring in a musical production. The only thing that can get in the way of you doing what you love and going after something that you want is you."

Roberts said he'll come back and do another performance sometime.

"This was a great opportunity and I love what I do and being a lead role," he said.

This has been the 40th year of musical theater for HLOC. They have done opera in the past, but mostly perform musicals. 98 percent of the staff are volunteers. This production took about 120 community members. There are about 60 people in the cast alone and another 20 in the orchestra.

"By doing these productions we are training locals in theater," Ryder said. "We do that specifically with the HLOC KidCo that both Tristin and Hannah attended through high school."

The HLOC does do a little fundraising, but most of their money comes from ticket sales.

"We could not do it without all the volunteers and staff who love to see the creations as a finished product," Ryder said.

Costs are also kept low because the company does not have an office; when not in production, its only expense is a storage unit.

The production does have senior and student discounted tickets and performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with tickets ranging from $13 to $19.

You can get more information and tickets at or by calling 822-1318.

Photo by Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer/Beacon

The Humboldt Light Opera Company entertained the large crowd recently at the Fortuna Rodeo Parade as they marched in costume showing off their creative details and high energy that can be found in their production of "Shrek: the Musical" for the next two weekends at the Van Duzer theater.