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Washington Voices

Volunteers build dragon for U-Hi’s ‘Shrek’

Thu., Sept. 19, 2013

Rustin Hall and his son Joseph unfold the wing structure of the 24-foot, 75-pound dragon they built for the University High School drama department production of “Shrek.” (Dan Pelle)
Rustin Hall and his son Joseph unfold the wing structure of the 24-foot, 75-pound dragon they built for the University High School drama department production of “Shrek.” (Dan Pelle)

She’s 24 feet long, weighs 75 pounds and breathes smoke.

She’s the perfect woman for a talking donkey.

When University High School presents the Broadway musical of “Shrek” in December, the dragon will be one of the many highlights. Since May, she’s been a labor of love for Rustin Hall, who built Dragon with the help of his son, Joseph, a drama student; his wife, Lynda; and another parent, Will Mellick.

Dragon can blink and wink, and her eyes change color depending on her mood – thanks to wiring by Mellick. Rustin Hall said they are red when she is upset, yellow normally and “green when she’s feeling love for Donkey.”

“When her eyes are flowing red, it’s pretty intense,” Hall said.

She can lift her head up and down, and she can talk. It will take five students to operate Dragon, not including her voice. Drama director Briane Green said a senior will provide her voice.

“Torey Routson will never be seen as the dragon, but her voice is unforgettable,” Green said.

She can flap her wings, which have a 16-foot span, and rotate them like human arms. Her tail can wrap around Donkey’s shoulders.

Hall, an architect, said the design came from looking at pictures of both the Broadway production of the play and the original movie. In the Broadway production, the dragon needed four operators, but his needs five. Hall said operating a 75-pound dragon will require a lot of upper-body strength and choreography.

“It’s going to take some practice,” he said.

Dragon is made from plastic foam, wood, cardboard, bike cables, fabric, acrylic coating and a plastic bag which works as the lung for the stage smoke she breathes.

While Hall had been spending 4 to 5 hours a night in his shop building Dragon, his wife, Lynda, managed to find a sponsor to help with the cost.

When her son, Joseph, learned the drama department was to present “Shrek,” he began singing some of the songs from the musical. One of them, “Donkey Pot Pie,” includes the lines, “My, what big teeth you have/They’re so sparkling white/I bet you hear this from all your food/But you must bleach at night.”

The lines inspired her to talk to Joseph’s dentist at KidSmile Dental, which agreed to donate $1,000 to the project.

“We didn’t want the school to have to cover all that,” Lynda Hall said.

The Halls have been volunteering at the U-Hi drama department for the past four years, and Lynda said they have attended every production since the school moved into its new building.

“We love to go to live theater,” Lynda said.

Joseph has been in many of the school’s productions, playing Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast,” and Marius in last year’s “Les Misérables,” among other parts. He auditioned for “Shrek” earlier this week, casting was expected to be announced Wednesday afternoon.

The Halls said they know how hard the drama department works to put on a great performance, especially Green and her husband, George, who is also the executive artistic director of Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d’Alene.

“She and her husband, George, they both do a great job with the kids,” Rustin said.

“U-Drama has always had parent volunteers that share their talents,” Briane Green said. “It’s clear where their kids get it from.”

Hall and his family have built Dragon at their home, but she recently moved to U-Hi for the finishing touches and rehearsals, which will start soon.

“It’s beyond anything I imagined,” Green said.

Rustin Hall said he wanted to make the best Dragon they could, and the school plans to rent it to other theater companies after their own show.

He wants them to have top-notch props for a great performance. Green said the department is going all-out for this production, with four costumers, one of whom specializes in puppets and cartoon characters and an animator to help design the magic mirror.

Now that Dragon is at the school, Hall hopes to finish her up and is anxious to see the students bring her to life.

“I’ve been spending more time with the dragon than with my wife,” he joked.

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