My daughter has a flair for the dramatic. She loves to sing and dance, and she takes 100s of selfies practicing different emotions. It’s part of what makes her as she self-describes “charismatic” and a part of her I try to nurture by taking her to artistic productions like “Shrek the Musical” that played this summer in the charmingly rustic Forestburgh Playhouse located in Sullivan County in the Catskills Region of upstate New York.
We have always been fans of the characters Shrek and Donkey, and so adding music and dance numbers to our favorite anti-hero and his not-so-steedish counterpart was a dream come true for us. We knew we had to go, so we invited our friends to join us, and we made the journey through the trees as it seemed since the route we took was off-the-beaten-path for certain. We arrived after feeling as though we’d journeyed a very long distance at a beautifully landscaped setting with a ruff hewn fence and a log cabin feel to the indoor theater.
As often happens with us, we arrived and immediately made our way to the ladies’ powder room. After which we made our way toward the theater which was more than three-quarters filled up with families. At the door Pinnochio and a Little Pig greeted us warmly and in character. We discovered that our tickets were still in the powder room and made our way back to look for them. Re-emerging shortly thereafter to once again receive the warm and in-character welcome of two fairytale creatures.
Pinnochio’s high-pitched voice never faltered and led my daughter to ask if that was his “real voice.” The young actor took his role seriously and professionally which along with the believable portrayals of his fellow cast mates contributed to our being able to immerse ourselves in the storyline and to really enjoy the show.
Another favorite character was the not-so-wicked Wicked Witch. We’ve watched “The Wizard of Oz” near to a hundred times this summer alone, and my daughter and two younger children have staged multiple re-enactments complete with song and dance and dramatic melting of the witch. My children especially enjoy the melting as they vanquish the foe. I became concerned about this, and had my daughter listen to the soundtrack from the Broadway musical “Wicked” to give her a little empathy for the green-faced villain-ness.
After listening to “Popular” a half dozen times my bright child declared that it wasn’t fair to melt the witch because she only wanted to have some love like everyone else. She got it–the message hidden in the face paint became clear to my 6-year-old. Since then her favorite Ozian has become the one and only Wicked Witch of the West who she understands is not-so-wicked and simply misunderstood and misjudged. We bypassed some of the principal characters to get to the witch at the meet and greet that followed the show.
My child internalizes things quickly and for her young age thinks deeply about life and it’s meaning. Part of this I know is due to her being different from other children. She was adopted from the foster care system–a fact that we have never concealed from her. She is also African-American while my husband is Hispanic, I’m Caucasian, and our other two children are Mixed Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian. We are all different in our family, however, we are indeed a family, and my children all know that they are loved irrelevant to their racial make up or on a more literal level their color. So a musical dealing with discrimination towards characters due to their heritage or on a literal level their color hit home for her.
It’s sad to have to explain to a child that some people in this world won’t like her or won’t like our family due to its make up and on a simplified level due to our multi-colored configuration. But due to the fact that some people have never learned the lesson that “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all” my child has heard discriminatory, ugly, and in my opinion downright ignorant comments from people over the course of her short life. I decided early on that we would view the negativity in the world as an opportunity to learn and a way to try to teach a lesson by not getting angry and responding with added negativity–no fighting fire with fire–instead we respond coolly and collectedly to all naysayers with the simple response that we are a family and we love each other without import to our pigmentation as love is more than skin deep.
My daughter has been teased also for being small, for the way she wears her hair, and even for the way she speaks (she doesn’t speak like a child her age) being too grown-up. I’ve related to her by sharing the fact that I was teased for being tall, for being chubby, and for being too fair. Her father has shared he was teased for being too scrawny. She’s seen her younger brother teased for his speech disorder (and actually is guilty of some of the teasing herself). Learning to love and accept yourself as you are is not easy in a society that constantly barrages us with photoshopped perfection. But learning to love yourself leads to knowing how to love others, and feeling badly about yourself leads to always criticizing and berating other people in an effort to feel somehow superior to their inferiority. Instead of loving people we then learn to shut them out, and the world gets lonelier and less “bright and beautiful” like the swamp Shrek inhabits.
Shrek sings about building a 10 foot wall to keep from getting hurt. In how many ways have we built similar walls insolating ourselves from anyone different due to fear of feeling different or being rejected? But when we
set aside our obvious and undeniable physical differences and get to know others on a spiritual basis even unlikely friendships as unimaginable as a swamp ogre and a talking donkey can be forged. Donkey and Shrek epitomize the beauty and loyalty of true friendship as they teach and learn from each other and protect and support each other on the symbolic quest we mere mortals call life.
Which leads me to the absolutely perfectly imperfect union of Shrek and his Fiona. They “are ogres” and they “are scary” but they learn not to fear themselves or to fear loving someone who isn’t storybook perfect. They write their story on all its smelly reality and with all its hairy warts.
My sweet girl summed up the message of the play beautifully when I asked her what she had learned: “I think, Mom, the play teaches us that it doesn’t matter if you’re green or ugly. You just need to love and let others love you back.” I love that girl!
Thank you Forestburgh Playhouse and all the cast members for a wonderful performance in a beautiful setting that led to a truly insightful conversation between a mother and her beloved child!
Watch or listen to Shrek the Musical with your family and friends!
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