With the roles of Pan in Bat Boy and The Cat in the Hat in Seussical already under his belt, Vancouver actor Matt Palmer has plenty of experience playing fictional characters. He uses them to draw inspiration as he becomes the big green ogre this summer for the Theatre Under the Stars production of Shrek: The Musical.
We can all relate to be being an outcast or not being loved at times. Shrek is such an interesting character as an ogre, but he also has a great big heart. People assume he will eat them, but that is not who he is.
“It is a lot of fun playing non-human roles because other than being inappropriate or rude there are no rules because no can say that is not what an ogre would do,” laughs Palmer. “There is a wonderful freedom that allows you to explore your silly creative side.”
A fan of the movies, Palmer also found himself attracted to the idea of being a show that operates on multiple levels, much like what he remembers from the old Warner Brothers cartoons he grew up watching.
“The great thing about Shrek is that it works for both adults and children,” explains Palmer. “It reminds me of cartoons like Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn, where they entertained children, but there are so many references that also entertain adults. That was what I was surprised by with the movie; not only that children loved it, but adults would go and there were all these adult references that would fly over the children’s heads.”
But don’t let Palmer’s love for the movie, upon which the musical is based, fool you into thinking his performance will be a simple impersonation of Mike Myers’s performance.
“With this role it is really kind of an iconic character, so I don’t want to muck about it too much,” says Palmer, who admits he will keep Shrek’s Scottish accent intact. “At the end of the day my job though, my job is to entertain the audience. I respect the character is very recognizable, but I also want to be able to put my own stamp on things. Besides, it is a musical and that in of itself puts an entirely different twist on things.”
What also won’t change, of course, is Shrek’s recognizable appearance. Palmer spends nearly two hours each night getting into the costume, prosthetic and green make-up that transforms him into the irascible ogre, and another hour to get out of it at the end of the show.
“We’ve definitely had to make some adjustments with the costume,” says Palmer of the process. “I tend to run hot so when the original design included rubber boots and hands made of winter gloves we knew there had to be some changes. It all comes down to temperature control.”
And while Palmer becomes the larger-than-life ogre thanks to some ample padding that transforms him from an average guy into a formidable force of green nature, beneath it all is the true heart of the musical.
“We can all relate to be being an outcast or not being loved at times,” says Palmer. “Shrek is such an interesting character as an ogre, but he also has a great big heart. People assume he will eat them, but that is not who he is.”
For Palmer, finding that heart is not as difficult as one might expect, using his experiences as an outsider to draw inspiration.
“Whether it is those times where my love has not been returned or my friendship has been unwanted, we have all been outcasts at some part in our lives,” he says.
But even as Palmer delves into the more emotional side of the story, he just as quickly turns things back to the sheer fun of being able to play someone like Shrek. There is no better example than the infamous farting scene between Shrek and Fiona, played in this TUTS production by Lindsay Warnock.
“It is one of my favourite scenes,” laughs Palmer. “And Lindsay has such quirky sense of humour which is perfect for Fiona. She’s been stuck in a tower for 23 years so she is a little nutty, and Lindsay depicts that so well. It also falls in line with the idea of Shrek being an outcast who hasn’t been afraid to fart on his own, but then when he meets her and she is the first person to fart with him. It is this weirdly magical moment.”
Shrek: The Musical plays in repertory with Legally Blonde: The Musical at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park from July 11 – August 23. Visit https://tuts.ca for tickets and information.