WILLIAMSTOWN — Students of the Minerva Arts Center will use their talent and skill to lead audiences to the land of make-believe this week in a production of “Shrek the Musical” at the former St. Mark’s Church in Adams.
The MAC operates under the direction of Minerva Stage, which was founded by Kathleen O’Mara in 1996 to provide an educational program for children interested in the arts.
In response to increased interest in cultural and education arts opportunities, the Minerva Arts Center was established as a 501©(3) nonprofit corporation in 2011.
Now the MAC offers classes in the performing and visual arts to students and community members of all ages.
Cassandra Vallieres, Minerva Art Center’s executive director/teaching arts, wants to “eventually do an adult show of ‘Beauty & the Beast.’ It would be open to anybody whether they have experience or not,” she said when we spoke recently.
Well, it is said that Minerva is where community art forms are celebrated and hidden talents are discovered.
For the students performing in the MAC’s production of “Shrek the Musical” that will be their time to shine. Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Vallieres is working with the students to help them deliver their best performance. “Oh my God, are they excited! They are ready and itching for an audience,”she said.
Vallieres can relate to her students of school age. “I started with Minerva when I was a student at McCann Tech (in North Adams),” she recalled. “We got a grant to do a show. Minerva was hired to put on the musical ‘Grease.’ “
Now Minerva has stepped up to fill a gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“High schools do a musical every year. So each senior body involved has one last show with their school,” Vallieres said. “But this isn’t happening this year and didn’t happen last year (due to the pandemic) so we decided to do something.”
Of the 15 cast members in “Shrek,” 12 are high school age.
When I spoke with Drury High School seniors Ryan Goodell and Audrey Belanger, who will play the roles of the Shrek and Princess Fiona, respectively, I learned they have been rehearsing 11 hours a week since April. But you won’t hear them complaining.
“We all want to do ‘Shrek,’ Ryan said. “We are so pumped.”
Audrey said, “I’m super excited.”
Ryan, who has been with Minerva since he was 9, said he will miss it when he goes to college. “I have worked with Cassandra Vallieres in every production she has done, behind the scenes or on stage,” he said.
Both Ryan and Audrey will attend a performing arts college.
Audrey recalled being surprised and overwhelmed when she was asked to play the role of Princess Fiona.
“I was curious, too, about how they were going to do it during the pandemic,” she said. “We were supposed to do Willie Wonka last year and it had to be canceled. It was a disappointment.”
Ryan chimed in: “We are wearing clear face shields on stage and the audience will be wearing face masks and social distancing.”
COVID-19 protocol, including taking temperatures, will be followed.
Vallieres said they had considered doing Shrek outside, but with all the special effects. it would not work .
There will be a first in “Shrek.”
“We are going to have puppets in the show,” Vallieres said. Puppeteers Ashley Gardzina and Hailey Peters will bring Pinocchio, Wicked Witch and Gingy.
I asked the executive director what she found most satisfying when working on this production and she replied, “The most fun is giving kids some normalcy to do something they love, which has been stripped from them because of the COVID pandemic.”
Tickets for “Shrek the Musical” can be purchased at minervaarts.org, but are not available on site. Tickets cost $10 for adults, and $7 for students and senior citizens.