Transformation: From Human to Ogre

Transformation: From Human to Ogre

Ryan Wood recently completed his final performance as Shrek (among other characters) in the hit national touring production of Shrek: The Musical.  In a recent Q&A with the Grex Group Producing Artistic Director, Clayton Guiltner, Wood described his experiences and graciously shared them with us.  Here’s the interview…

Ryan Wood performs as Shrek, in the hit Broadway touring production of “Shrek: The Musical.”

Clayton:  Performing a role day after day, week after week must be a challenge.  What are some lessons you’ve learned about the art form after having traveled and performed the show time after time?

Ryan:  Well this is a rather tricky thing for me. Not only was touring new to me, but I had also never performed one specific show for longer than a 3 week run. So traveling a show of this magnitude and training myself to sustain the integrity of my onstage duties had its share of hard times. But Shrek taught me SO much about myself and about being a professional. When you perform a show for an extended period of time, you get a natural tendency along the way to “phone it in.”  It’s something every actor deals with. You get so comfortable in the role that you stop thinking about EVERYTHING else other than (in my case) Shrek the Musical. This was a turning point for me as an actor because it meant that I now had to think outside my own little box and find new discoveries within the story. I had to force myself to discover new things, have new moments with my fellow Fairytale Creatures, push myself further to not let myself sink into that washed up actor who could care less. Doing a show time after time pushed me into being a better performer, but only because I wouldn’t let it affect me in a negative way. I used it to make me a better actor. I loved it.

Clayton:  In a recent blog interview with Chris Rice, he talked about the different audiences a performer experiences in a touring show.  So, we want to hear your take on this topic.  How do you find that audiences differ from city to city? Do some shows play better than others, and how much does audience affect the show?

Ryan:  This was an astounding thing to me. It shocked me how some cities responded COMPLETELY different than other cities. We could be in a small town like Orange, Texas one weekend, have amazing shows with killer audiences, having the best time, then the very next city (who shall remain nameless) is silent. Unresponsive to everything. I’ll never understand that. But it happens all the time. So we had to get used to it and try to not let it affect us. And with Shrek, a good audience means a great show. A bad audience, still a good show, but drains us so much more than it should.

Ryan Wood during intermission during a Broadway touring production of “Shrek: The Musical.”

Clayton:  This show has been an interesting one for you, as you have played several different characters, including Lord Farquaad, Donkey, Pig, and of course…Shrek.  What have you learned about performance having understudied and filled in for other roles during the run of Shrek?

Ryan:  Shrek was the first show I had professionally understudied for and it was such a huge learning experience for me. It taught me that it is up to ME to learn the role to the best of my ability. You can’t rely on having a bunch of rehearsals and get plenty of time with the director. In fact; I never ONCE had a rehearsal for the role of Shrek with my director. Any rehearsal I had was in a little studio with my stage manager. You just have to do you homework, because you could go on much sooner than you ever thought you would. From a performance aspect, it is wildly fulfilling to step into a role and have the chance to make it your own. The main thing that I struggled with was having the actor whom I am understudying fill my head during a performance with how THEY performed the role. I constantly think to myself “Wait, what did Lukas [our Shrek] do here? I know he crossed stage left to Fiona, but he would always hesitate and give her a shrug…” and so on. I had to trust myself as an actor and a good understudy. I knew the blocking, now it’s thinking as Shrek AS WELL AS getting the blocking right (which, admittedly, I didn’t always nail). It was a hard thing that I struggled with even to my last show as Shrek.

Clayton:  In academic theatre, directors are a part of the process until the close of the show, but in a professional touring show, directors complete their work and disappear.  Describe your interactions with the director and what it’s like to carry on in performance after the director has long since departed.

Ryan:  Shrek is a Fairytale.  So we got to do a great deal of playing around and having fun with each other. Our director, Stephen Sposito, was very good about giving us a sort of broad sense of where the scene needed to go and left the personal relationships to build organically with us. But I still remember the first time we did the number “Freak Flag” in the rehearsal space with Stephen. We had worked on the choreography for days with our choreographer, but putting it together with Stephen was magical. It was keeping it magical that was the challenge. Once the director leaves (which is generally the day after opening night) it is the Stage Manager’s responsibility to act as the director in his/her absence. She was the one giving acting notes and working understudy rehearsals. So that was something that was a little strange to me and difficult to adapt to. My Stage Manager really helped revive old beats. Things that, in time, had been over and forgotten, she would help bring those moments back to where Stephen had them in rehearsals.

Clayton:  Ok, last question..something many people find fascinating: the transformation of a human to an Ogre: can you tell us about the make-up process?

Ryan:  Shrek, when it was on Broadway, took 2 and a half hours to get into makeup before the show. Over time and after the 1st National went out, the creative team figured out a few corners that could be cut to save time. Now, the running time is about 1 hour and 35 minutes. Not bad, yeah? It consists of several facial products applied to the skin to protect it from the heavy gluing and allows the glue to adhere, but still be removed at the end of the show. After that, a bald cap is glued to the head, then what we call “the cowl” is pulled over the head and acts as basically everything on the head minus the face. Once the cowl is on, the chin/cheek silicon mold is then glued to the face. After that, is the forehead, nose and lower lip. The edges of the silicon face pieces are very thin so that after everything is glued down, the makeup artist can then burn off the edges with a special chemical that leaves the pieces to fit together seamlessly. Once all is glued, the whole face gets painted green including around the eyes and eye lids, then the eyebrows get a brown brush to them to make them bushier than they already were. (in my case.. VERY). Then a quick airbrush over the whole face with brown spacial and BOOM: Shrek is complete. Well… his face at least. Then he puts on the 40 lb costume and that just a whole new story….