Let your freak flag wave! Let your freak flag fly! Never take it down, never take it down and raise it way up high! For everyone at the Toby’s Dinner Theatre production of Shrek the musical to come and see! That’s right, folks! We’re hitting the swamp and the city of Duloc to uncover the truth behind these fairytale creatures! In a brand new interview series entitled ‘Story of My Life: The Freak Flag Chronicles’ we’ll venture into the story of six of Shrek’s characters and find out what life is all about in the land of unusual fairytales! First up, Toby’s veteran performer Heather Beck playing the leader of the ‘freak’ rebellion, Gingy!
Amanda: Let’s start by refreshing our readers’ memories and remind them where they might have seen you last here in the Baltimore and Washington DC area on the stage.
This is the hardest question for me because I have the worst memory and I’m tired. I’m sure you can actually answer these questions better than me, Amanda. What we just finished was Spamalot! I loved Spamalot! Before that was Miracle on 34th Street. In Spamalot I was a Laker Girl, an ensemble girl, and a minstrel girl. And what was that person in the beginning? A Finland person! Oh! And a Camelot castle girl too! Back over the holidays in Miracle I was Doris, God is that her name? That would be terrible if that wasn’t her name. I’m pretty sure her name was Doris Walker, because Susan was the little girl. I was the mother, the main woman. And then before that show was 100 roles in the Les Miserables ensemble. Anything before that and I’d have to go back and look at my calendar. All of these shows were right here at Toby’s.
What was the draw for you to want to get involved with Shrek?
It’s Shrek! It’s so fun. And fairytale creatures are totally my thing. I love musicals like this, and another one that I love is Into the Woods because it has Cinderella and all those storybook people in it. Fairytale creatures rule. The inner child in me gets to come out and play. I’m always a big fan of these stories.
What’s your favorite fairytale?
I like anything with mice. That is fortunate for me since I get to play one of the three blind mice in this show and I get to tap as a rat in “Morning Person.” I’m trying to think if there are any fairytales specifically about mice. I don’t really know what my favorite fairytale is. I guess maybe Cinderella because, well it has mice. But also because it’s ball gowns forever, everything changes magically for her, and it’s just a wonderful story. I love that one; so we’ll go with Cinderella, which I’ve been in as The Stepmother. That was a fun role to do. I love anytime I get to do fairytale stuff it’s just so much fun for me! I get to be silly and have fun and play with those stories and it’s great.
You are playing at least six or seven different characters in this show, how did that come about?
I think they must have said, “Let’s see how many different things we can have Heather do.” But that’s cool! It’s funny because I didn’t realize that I was playing so many different characters until the people at my table started asking, “Who are you?” Then I would say, “I’m the queen— Fiona’s mother who sends her away at the beginning—then I’m Sugarplum Fairy, a Duloc person, Gingy, a Rat Tapper, and then a blind mouse. It’s six, I think. The costumes are a little crazy, they’re quick changes but it stops in the middle of the middle of the first act and then I get a rest. And then we get to do it again in the second act briefly. There’s lots of fun doing so many different things, though!
So you have six crazy costumes going on, and they all spectacular, which one is your favorite?
I think I like the Sugarplum Fairy costume. It’s a tutu. It’s a bright orange tutu with some incredibly bright orange leggings and orange feathery wings. I thought I was going to be kind of ‘yuck’ about wearing it because it’s a tutu and I thought it would be really revealing and I’d be embarrassed about wearing it even though there were some things I just finished wearing in Spamalot that were way more revealing. This tutu is actually kind of comfortable. The tutu kind of hides anything I don’t want to be showing and it has the least amount of pieces to it. That always feels good when you put something on.
The other costumes aren’t necessarily more complicated they just have more layers so it takes longer to get them on. I’ve been lucky that I don’t have any grief with any of the costumes; nothing has given me any trouble. Oh, I love my queen costume, by the way. I actually forgot about that for a moment there because I wear it for such a short scene so early in the show. They made me this headpiece that’s so gorgeous. You know me and my headpieces…the Ghost of Christmas Past way back in A Christmas Carol and Glinda’s big old headpiece from The Wizard of Oz, now this one isn’t quite as big as that. Because I don’t think either one of those headpieces actually fit through the entrances. There’s been a couple entrances they’ve changed over the years because my head doesn’t fit through them. Fortunately, my queen crown fits just fine but still looks really big and gorgeous. I love all my costumes. I like to dress up. It’s part of the fairytale magic!
We must talk about this puppet. Gingy, the Gingerbread man, and the cookie with the gumdrop button. Now tell us about him.
It’s a secret! I can’t tell anything! It’s not me! Wow, I just changed my voice just there, didn’t I? Haha! You know, did you think maybe we should have interviewed Gingy separately? I mean, he and I have developed a relationship and I do feel kind of good about it.
This must be different from any other character you’ve played. He’s not just a costume and persona, he’s riding around on your hand for most of the time he appears. What is that like and how are you managing to make it work in comparison to the way you approach other character roles?
I don’t know. I feel really comfortable doing it, mostly I think just because he’s right there. I have to remember, though, that I am not talking to him. He is talking and it’s just really cool because I feel— ask me the question again. I’m feeling a little like Shrek here from his song “When Words Fail” as I’m about to say, ‘Where was I going with that?’ Ok, what is it like having this secondary character attached to me rather than be a part of me and how is that different from my other characters? I think I’ve got it.
Everybody is focused on me when I’m playing a character by itself. It’s interesting to think that while you’re moving this character’s mouth that they are trying to focus on the puppet and then believe that it is coming from the puppet’s mouth. I mean, clearly you can see that it’s coming from me, I’m right there. I’m not doing a ventriloquist trick, they can see me, there’s no secret. Also, I don’t know ventriloquism, awesome as that would be; it’s not in my repertoire of tricks. It sort of goes back to what I know happened in Spamalot where nobody really thought they were cutting the Black Knight’s arms off, they knew it was a trick, and this is like that. They know he’s a puppet, and they know I’m giving him the voice, but it’s very fun to watch people watching that. This is why it’s so important for me to remember that he is the one talking and I’m not talking to him. Otherwise you get me talking at his face like a conversation and that destroys the illusion.
I have Gingy on the tray for the most part, except when I’m in the box, and the only hard part about that was initially I was trying to keep one character on one side of my body and the other character on the other side. So that made me want to sit his tray on my hip so that he could stay on one side of me and Sugarplum Fairy could be over here on this side of me. It wasn’t always possible to do that because he’d slide off my hip. I tried to rig up a little something that would help hold him in place but during the fast changes that just wasn’t working so that had to go. Now that I’ve had more practice with him, it’s fine. I hold him on the bottom of his tray and we get along nicely.
There is a box. Inside it is a Heather Beck. On top of it lies a gingerbread man on his ‘torture rack’ for the scene—made famous in the movie— between Lord Farquaad and Gingy where the location of Princess Fiona is revealed. Let’s talk about that whole experience. What’s it like inside the box?
It’s very small. I’m actually too tall for it. We made it. I went to the warehouse and squished into myself, as small as I could make myself lying flat, and they measured around me and then measured length, width, and height and all that stuff. Then they made the box. I came back and tried it once they’d made it and thus the box was made. Now I get in it, and it’s fine, but I have to kind of tilt my head to the side and my legs are in a butterfly position while I’m on my back. I was just thinking the other day that perhaps I need a pillow in there.
All of that and I still have to move the puppet. Tech week I was in there and it was time to cut the hole. I wriggled my arm around and found the angle and place where it worked best to manipulate Gingy’s movement, and then I started banging on the box from inside and that was where they cut the hole. I’m really glad we tested that out first because if we’d just guessed with the hole and my hand was all down in other places of that box it would have been a big Gingerbread disaster. But we got the hole right on the first go and my hand fits it just fine.
So I’m scrunched up in this box, I’m working the Gingy puppet on my back, and I can’t see any of what’s going on in that scene. I just recently found out that there are other people besides Jeffrey (Jeffrey Shankle, Lord Farquaad) standing on the stage in this scene. I didn’t know that there was a guard patrol around the stage while this is happening.
Where are you drawing your sound and inspiration for the Gingy voice? I’ll be honest, having seen you perform for many years I had no idea it was your voice coming out of that box, and I knew that it was you doing the role!
That’s great! That’s perfect! That’s what I’m hoping for! Yes! You know, I hate to ruin it, but I don’t really know where that sound comes from. I guess you’ve grown up knowing about the gingerbread man, seeing the little cartoons. Wait, I don’t even remember, was he a cartoon? Anyway, you know the gingerbread man; he’s like a staple in your kid life. But I always see in my mind this image of him running down the lane, running away from the wolf, or the cow. We read stories in school, lately with my students, where he’s running away from a cow. But you just always hear that. Well, I always hear that. I always just hear this voice, his voice, and I think “if I could just produce that sound” that would be great. And somehow it just happens.
I get to sing as Gingy too, for “Freak Flag.” It’s a little harder because I have to find placement in my range for the Gingy sound on top of getting into the notes for the song. It’s such a fun number. I’m gun-ho and all power to the people for that number, I get to really blast it out there and lead our little freak rebellion. So much fun is happening in that number, and once the fun gets going the voice just settles so much more naturally into that song too.
What has been the most challenging thing about this show for you?
Hmm. Long silence…I don’t know. The biggest challenge for me is always getting all my shit together at the last minute. Learning, learning, learning, and then going “Heather, ok. Now you have to get it together. You must have it today.” And then when I don’t have it that day I get stern with myself and say “no exceptions you must have it tomorrow.” Just getting it all together is the biggest challenge.
I have a lot to get together. This show has a lot of changes. I always have to have a track sheet going. I’m talking per week; not just one for the final run. This is what I know I have to do this week, and I get it all written down and that’s how I remember it. And then the next week if I forget something, or if something has happened that’s new, I add it to the track sheet and that’s how I make it work.
At some point in your life I know you’ve made a gingerbread man. How do you make your gingerbread man? Is there a secret family recipe? Do you decorate them in some special way?
Um, of course I’ve made a gingerbread man. Wait a minute. I don’t actually know if I’ve made a gingerbread man. Oh no! It’s a lie! Oh the scandal! We actually just made gingerbread houses, but I really don’t think I’ve ever made a gingerbread man. I’m not really a baker…my parents weren’t really bakers…I think we bought our gingerbread men from the store. Now, I gave everyone gingerbread kids for opening night but I bought them from the Old Mill Bakery. They were excellent!
Are you a fan of gumdrop buttons?
No. I don’t like gumdrops. Ugh. Bleck. Gross. They’re too jelly filled or whatever. So it’s very hard to resist telling Jeffrey in that scene to just,“Take my gumdrop button! They’re so gross!”
What’s the most magical moment in the show for you?
Heather: I think it’s at the end when Princess Fiona—
Gingy: Hold it right there, Heather! That’s a spoiler! We can’t be giving anything away now! We wouldn’t want to ruin the ending for everyone who’s desperately waiting to know if the story of Shrek ends happily ever after!!
Heather: Ok. Well, it’s still the most magical moment— when the moral of the story is revealed, when the discoveries of inner beauty are made and the magic happens. Is that better? And then they both burst into song, Shrek and Fiona, at the end, and Gingy and I are over on the side crying. And we’re trying to get it together, but it’s a fairytale and it’s so sad. Or maybe it’s happy. I’m not telling. It’s one of those things that gets me.
Gingy: Speak for yourself! I’m not crying. I’m not telling what I’m doing! Spoilers!
Heather: It is definitely one of those moments where you feel so embarrassed that the fairytale made you cry.
Are either you or Gingy actually an Aries?
Heather: I’m a Libra. And Aries is a little wrong for Gingy. He’s actually the one that comes after that, he’s a Taurus. He may think he’s an Aries, but he’s definitely way more Taurus than anything else. Aries is just a convenient rhyme for fairies.
Gingy: Listen up, Heather! It’s time to stop the hiding. It’s time to stand up tall. Say, “Hey world, I’m an Aries! Gumdrop buttons and all!”
Heather: See? Stubborn, just like a Taurus.
Do you two have your own ‘freak flag’ to put out there the way that they do in the song? Gingy spends a great deal of time telling us that we need to accept ourselves, splinters and all, and I’m sure the readers want to know if you guys have anything to add to that.
Heather: Gingy, for sure, definitely has something to put out there.
Gingy: Yeah! That butthole Farquaad cut off my legs! So I am definitely going to show him a thing or two and tell him what’s what. I’m no longer a prisoner on his table!
Heather: I think the Sugarplum Fairy might be enamored by the Gingerbread man.
Heather: I think she might be a little in love with his bad self. Just a little love story going on there. I think initially I thought that they were just good friends, but I think she might have a crush! I might have to keep an eye on that because Gingy is just so super sweet.
Gingy: Oh my! Well! I’m going to just have to see where this goes! Maybe she’ll like my gumdrop buttons! Hey— hey! Leave those alone! What are you doing with that cookie cutter?
Heather: Sorry, Gingy has been detained for the remainder of this interview. You asked if I had a freak flag to fly? The answer is always. Always. Sometimes it depends on the day of the week, and what’s happened in that day. I guess it’s a little bit of a way to vent the injustices of the day. I am my own person and you can’t stop me. I have that going on, definitely. I’m going to be who I want to be and that’s that. And I feel that way every day. Not in a mean, in your face kind of way, well maybe sometimes, but it’s definitely all about ‘be who you are’ for me.
How well do you think this show is going over with the audiences?
Oh they love it. Watching these kids’ eyes light up during this show is just so incredible. I love doing this kind of show exactly for that reason. The whole house is just bouncing with energy, especially in the second act. Even the older kids. I’ve noticed that even with the high school students if they’re not into the love story of Fiona and Shrek, as kids at that age often aren’t, by the time you get to the end with “I’m a Believer” there are kids of all ages, especially the older ones, who are bouncing up and down in their chairs and rocking right along with us. They’re having a great time, they’re so pumped up you can hear it; the sound of “Yeah! I’m not going to bed until 2 am and this show is awesome!” It’s so great to feel that energy coming from the audiences.
I really do think that this show is perfect for kids of all ages. Oh my gosh, I watched this little girl on opening night and when the dragon came out, her eyes just blew up and she was glowing, doing that whisper that is really not a whisper and shouting “Mommy! Mommy!” and pointing. It was the best thing to see. The high school students really like it. I haven’t seen one yet that looks bored, which is what you always worry about for high school students because they’re angsty and something like this isn’t cool enough for them. But I have not seen a single one not enjoy themselves.
I think it’s also going really well with the adult audiences too. I haven’t heard anything negative. I think everyone is just enjoying it because it’s great silly fun.
Why should people come and see Shrek at Toby’s? That is if they can still get tickets. I hear a large portion of the run is sold out.
It is! I think last report from the box office said we were over 80% sold out for the rest of the run. So please, please! Definitely get your tickets, book now because if you wait you’re going to miss it! Shrek is an amazing story. Everybody should come see fairytales because they ignite this fire under people. Imagine. Dream. Love story. It’s all in there. And it’s so much fun. Even if this is not a story that you are familiar with or love, watching those little kids’ eyes light up when they watch it? That’s what I love about going to the theatre, when I do get to go. I love watching people respond to the magic that’s happening on stage. And what better place to experience that than a theatre where everybody is around you and you get to see everybody? It’s magical.