One of the greatest and most selfless gifts that can be given is one’s time. This is a story of something a large group of people have wholeheartedly and lovingly done for the past two months.
When Farmington High School Teacher Diana Mays-Nielson had unexpected brain surgery and was recovering in March, her best friend Kim Zustiak stepped in to help finish up the production “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Near the end of the production, Zustiak pitched an idea for a fundraiser performance for Mays-Nielson to Farmington Choir Director Claire Naes. Originally, the idea was to organize a talent or cabaret-type performance in which Mays-Nielson’s current and former students could perform. But by the final “Little Shop of Horrors” performance, Zustiak and Naes had decided to put on a full-size production of “Shrek the Musical”
The performances take place this week on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Farmington Centene Center. Tickets are $10 each (plus $2.24 online fee) at Eventbrite.com.
Tryouts for “Shrek the Musical” were held in May. Of the more than 50 cast members, several people have multiple roles throughout the show.
With such a large cast, many are working hard behind-the-scenes to ensure a production of this magnitude is successful. Zustiak is directing the show, with the assistance of Cassie Widdows, a Farmington High School theater student.
Naes is music director. Janna Hagerty, Knightline dance team sponsor, is choreographer with Macey Vandiver, a 2020 graduate of Farmington, assisting. Chuck Gallaher is set designer and technical director. Mendy Orr is publicity director for the production. Juli Kleppe is in charge of the cast’s costumes.
Zustiak said she is honored to be able to direct this show to benefit her best friend.
“Getting this huge production organized is not a small job,” she said.
She credited the Mineral Area Fine Arts Academy for also assisting with this production, including Bob Monks and Amanda Dement.
When Monks first heard about plans for the benefit production, his immediate response was, “What can the Mineral Area Fine Arts Academy do to help?”
Monks said the idea of the performance was “for an even better cause by Kim Zustiak and Claire Naes.”
“We are so excited to be accepted to be a small part of their amazing team,” he said. “Everyone has put in an incredible amount of effort to pull this off.”
Monks added that Gallaher has spent countless hours designing and building the set.
“With so many local businesses jumping on board to donate their time and financial contributions, it is simply amazing to see everyone come together,” he said. “I, along with a few others from the academy, will be manning the pit orchestra for this production and we’re so excited for this to be our first show.”
Monks said he’s especially excited to perform and cannot wait to see everything come together after months of planning, preparation and practice.
Naes said she thinks this show has shown just how much the theater community is a family.
“We have so many people from all over the area and from different walks of life coming together to support one of our members,” she said. “It’s been amazing and humbling to see it all.”
Gallaher said he is also happy to also be part of “Shrek the Musical.”
“This show is for a very good cause,” he said. “You can tell how much everyone cares by all the hard work they have put into this show.”
Zustiak, of Festus, has taught speech, debate and theatre at Seckman High School in the Fox C-6 School District for the past 19 years. She and Mays-Nielson first met as college students at Southeast Missouri State University.
“I guess our friendship just kind of grew over the course of the past 5-10 years,” said Zustiak, “and forced over several road trips.”
The pair sees each other at speech and debate meets and attend an annual teaching conference together.
“Diana is like a sister to me,” said Zustiak, ”and this production just feels like one of the only ways that I can help her right now.”
She said she feels what makes this particular show so special is that it’s for such a good cause. They have numerous individuals and local businesses working together and donating their time, talent and financial gifts to make the production happen.
Zustiak said the cast is filled with people from all over the area who willingly and enthusiastically came together to be part of this special fundraising event.
“I think this has the potential to be something very special for so many reasons,” she said, “and if we do our job right, the whole community will be able to see that and help a family who has done so much for so many at the same time.”
“Shrek” cast members include performers of all ages, from elementary students to adults, and from many areas including Park Hills, Farmington, Potosi, Fredericktown, Festus and De Soto. They include Isaac Hallock, Shrek; Sondra Kekec, Fiona; Chase Glore, Donkey; Joshua Politte, Lord Farquaad; and Zabien Gusman, Pinocchio.
Ensemble cast members include Van Kleppe, August Palmer, Sam Gallaher, Tucker Juliette, Cori Proctor, Lyn Ruess, Vivian Welker, Dawn Fuemmeler, Brian Womble, Mandy Ropers, Jackson Umfleet, Katie Orr, Abbi Hallock, Connor Zustiak, Chloe Austin, Eli Hallock, Sophie Yilmaz, Pam Marler, Sandra Szendrey, Michealyn Stokes, Reese Stokes, Sophie Austin, Tierce Carmody, Joseph Govero, Justin Gratton, Parker Shinn, Ryan Johnson, Trenton Kelley, Elizabeth Lessner, Emma Spiker, Michael Cantrell, Tucker Juliette, Kory Kleppe, Jennifer Stokes, Ellie Womble, Tiffany Gallaher, Ted Barnhouse, Phillip Austin, Jersey Hagerty, Aubrianne Singer, Syr Charles Lyons, Robert Price, Cadence Kekec, Eloise Burd and Chaz Seitz.
The story of “Shrek the Musical” is the tale of a green ogre who retreats to a swamp to live in isolation. He interacts with several interesting characters as they travel through the swamp.
The crew also includes an extensive list: Chuck Gallaher, Dawn Fuemmeler, Cassondra Smothers and Faith Smothers, set construction; Cassie Widdows, Emma Spiker, Grace Miller, Kai Peck, Cassondra Smothers, Faith Smothers and Kia Wyatt, stage crew; Todd Mahaney and Addy Allebach, lighting; Brandon Nielson and Dean Friedrich, sound; Juli Kleppe, Heather Alfaro, Kathy Wichman and Kala Loughary, costumes; Heather Alfaro and Kala Loughary, makeup; Mendy Orr, Tiffany Gallaher, Deb Dunnegan and Kory Kleppe, publicity.
Pit band members are Claire Naes, Kathryn Gerhard, Mari Porter, Bob Monks, Aiyanna Luffy, Kurt Bauche, Eddie Mitkos, Elliot Naes, Regina Brown-Vaughn, Amanda Dement, Jonah Hagerty and Will Fletcher.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal