Community School of Davidson’s “Shrek The Musical” Weaves a Community
When Griffin Small and Anna Staskel take the stage this Thursday night for the opening of Shrek The Musical at Community School of Davidson (CSD) ArtSpace, it won’t be the first time they’ve performed together. But it will be the first time they’ve shared the stage with their younger siblings, Nash Small and Landry Staskel.
For this year’s high school musical at CSD, Melissa Ohlman-Roberge, CSD’s upper school theatre arts educator/director, opened auditions to middle school and elementary school students. The result? A cast of more than 60 with actors from kindergarten to seniors — plus four other groups of siblings.
“I chose to open auditions in an effort to bring younger students into theatre,” explains Ohlman-Roberge, adding that the pandemic had a tremendous impact not just on the arts at CSD, but everywhere.
When Griffin, who plays Shrek, found out that the auditions were going to be open, he was thrilled that his sixth-grade brother could try out. “That was all Nash and I could talk about. We would talk about our dream roles in this show,” says the junior. “When he got cast as young Shrek, he was so happy.”
The same is true for Anna, a sophomore, and Landry, a seventh grader. Before auditions, the two sisters watched Shrek The Musical together on Disney Plus at least 20 times. Anna was cast as Princess Fiona and Landry plays young Fiona. “I like to watch her act,” says Anna, adding that Landry gives her notes. “It just makes me really excited to see her out there having fun the same way I do.”
Both sets of siblings were exposed to theatre at a young age, as Griffin and Nash’s older brother, Quentin, and Anna and Landry’s older brother, Jonah, were heavily involved in theatre and still are. Griffin says that when he saw his brother play young Simba in The Lion King in middle school, he knew that he too wanted to do theatre. The two performed together last year in CSD’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“I’m really proud to see my sons being successful in this,” says their father, Trey, who credits his wife, Whitney, and her musical theatre background for their performance gene. “Nash is not intimidated by it because he’s seen his brothers do it.”
Anna had a similar experience remembering that when her brother, Jonah, was in shows he’d come home and teach the songs to her. “I’d know all the songs when I watched him on stage,” recalls Anna, who began doing theatre in fifth grade. Jonah is currently studying at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and is coming home to see the show. “Jonah has never seen Landry perform on stage,” says their mother, Heather Staskel. “It’s really going to be exciting for him.”
The family component of theatre resonates strongly with Olhman-Roberge, who has many fond memories of doing shows with her husband and three daughters. “These experiences have made us the family that we are today,” she says, adding that the familial nature of theatre extends into the cast and community. “Making theater — or collaborating in any creative endeavor for that matter — leads to a special kind of connection, one that reaches deep into our spirit and lifts us up.”
That connection is apparent when the cast of Shrek rehearses contagious numbers such as “Freak Flag” and “This is Our Story.” And it’s also apparent when Griffin and Nash, and Anna and Landry experience special moments on the stage together. Says Griffin, “I can’t wait until I get to perform in front of an audience and share that sort of excitement with my little brother.”
Shrek The Musical runs March 23 through April 2 at Community School of Davidson ArtSpace at 404 Armour Street in Davidson. Tickets can be purchased here.
Lori K. Tate
Lori K. Tate is a freelance writer and essay coach. She lives in Cornelius with her husband, John, and teenage twins, Graydon and Margot.