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South Jordan Journal

From audition to curtain call: Shrek teaches South Jordan Elementary students valuable skills

Jun 05, 2024 03:55PM ● By Julie Slama

More than 90 students performed in South Jordan Elementary’s production of “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” for students and their families this spring. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In the packed South Jordan Elementary multi-purpose room, voices hushed when everyone’s favorite ogre and his fairytale friends took to the assembled stage to present “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” 

As the familiar costumed characters were on an adventure to rescue a princess, the 92 fourth- through sixth graders shared a story of true acceptance.

“I like the message it shares and how through theater, we can teach interdisciplinary skills of reading, language arts, character development and comparison and contrast,” teacher and director Diane Witt-Roper said. “We pull in those education skills that go with this after school program.”

Sixth grader Stockton Affleck played Shrek, while sixth grader Jacob Pacini played his sidekick, Donkey.

“This was such a cool experience to share with my friends and I got to make a lot of new friends at the same time,” Stockton said. “Sometimes, it got hard during rehearsals, but it’s 100% worth it when you get on stage in front of a huge crowd, and you bow. It just gives me goosebumps.”

The cast had several months of rehearsals.

“We had more than 100 kids try out back in November and we started music rehearsals in December,” Witt-Roper said. “In January, we added the staging and choreography.”

When the students audition, they’re asked, ‘What are the top three characters you want? And, if you don’t get one of those, would you be willing to take anything just to be involved in the play?’

“Most kids say yes, and fully immerse themselves in the experience,” she said. “This year, we had to create fairytale characters to accommodate everybody.”

Fourth grader Ruby Thompson wanted to be cast in a couple different roles before returning to her first thought of Young Fiona.

“The hardest thing about being Young Fiona was being the first one on the stage,” she said. 

However, with “just breathe” advice from her mother and brother, who appeared in the school’s production of “Wizard of Oz, Jr.,” she was able to step on stage and hit her cues.

“I like acting and singing and performing my skills,” said the student-actress who first appeared on stage at age 7. “I like making people smile and have fun.”

Witt-Roper, who was joined directing the show by choreographer and second-grade teacher Alan LaFleur and musical director and Beverley Taylor Sorenson music teacher Luke Durbin, said that students also learn listening and communication skills and working as a team as well as physical activity and coordination. 

Both Stockton and Jacob said that in addition to learning acting skills, such as voice projection, movement and transitions, they have appreciated getting to gain a better understanding of theater.

“When you’re in a production that is of such high quality, it makes you know what is going on in other shows,” Jacob said. “And being in a show like this is exhilarating.”

The boys have been in two other recent school performances — “Seussical the Musical, Jr.” and “Annie, Jr.” and want to continue acting in middle school next year.

Witt-Roper, who was involved in theater and music in high school and college, took over South Jordan Elementary’s productions seven years ago, after directing them for eight years at Bluffdale Elementary. 

Before she took over the direction of the musicals, former third-grade teacher Scott Knight directed shows such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “North Pole Goes Rock ‘n Roll,” “Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King.” Together, they directed “Beauty and the Beast.”

Witt-Roper appreciates the support parents have given during the show.

“We start with a parent meeting where they receive a welcome letter, a rehearsal schedule, expectations and a contract that both students and parents sign saying they’ll attend rehearsals, keep up their academics, have positive behavior and all the information they need,” she said. “Then, we have parents who are very generous and step up as parent helpers. This year, we had 15 parent volunteers, including our two main parent coordinators – Jen Hansen and Sarah Anderson — and our art director, Stephanie Miller. We really can’t do what we do without our parent support as well as our support from our whole school.” λ