The 70-student cast and crew of Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy will perform four showings of "Shrek the Musical Jr." in Caldwell Auditorium at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday. Admission is free.

This will mark the 10th anniversary of the school providing major student theatrical performances. Past productions have included "Annie," "Pinocchio," "Seussical," "The Little Mermaid" and other Disney and Broadway classics.

"Our musicals are geared to large ensembles that feature as many characters as possible, because we want to include lots of students in our cast," director and drama teacher, Derek Johnson, said. "For this performance, 60 students are in the cast and 10 are on our tech crew. The tech crew works side by side with parent volunteers to work the lights, sound and set changes."

The evening performances will begin with a short video showcasing how the school's musical program has evolved over the past 10 years. Audience members also will have the opportunity to view a variety of costumes worn in past productions as well as enjoy a photo booth where they can dress like some of the main characters in previous shows.

Caldwell staff members serve as the musical director, choreographer, stage manager and assistant stage manager. However, close to 100 adult and community volunteers join together to make these musicals happen. Caldwell parents Maureen Kaiser and Amy Ames serve as the producer and assistant producer, respectively, and Jason Jennings and Tim Collins have coordinated the construction of sets and props.

Parent volunteers also coordinate costume designs, make-up, decorations, publicity and a special cast party after the last performance.

None of this would be possible, Johnson said, without support from the Tyler ISD Foundation, which awarded the school with a $5,000 grant last year. The grant funds not only helped to purchase "Shrek the Musical Jr.," but they also purchased the supplies needed for props and decorations as well as helped cover the cost of costumes or make-up for students who were unable to afford these items.

The grant also allows the school to offer free admission to the performances, making the fine arts experience available to anyone in the community.

"We are an elementary school that offers a musical theater program that remains exceptional across the nation, and we are now seeing participants from our first musicals in college, some of whom are pursuing careers or studies in theater," Johnson said. "Many parents comment about how the musical increases their child's confidence overall, and students are willing to take risks and try new things as a result of their involvement in our program."

The evening also will include a presentation of the Ann Miller Award to a parent who has been key in building up the program.

"We are really excited to have the family of Ann Miller with us for Friday night's show," Johnson said. "Ms. Miller was an assistant principal at Caldwell and the one who got the entire program off the ground, but unfortunately passed away before the first performance."

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