Local artist designs sets for Lehi High School play

Randy Blackburn paints a set for the play Shrek the Musical at Lehi High School on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. Blackburn has been volunteering as the set builder for school productions for 7 years and is doing three shows this year. SPENSER HEAPS

If construction workers tromping around the outside of their high school wasn't enough, now Lehi High School has been invaded by a big green ogre and a host of irreverent fairy tale characters. "Shrek the Musical" opens at Lehi High School on Thursday.

Mindy Nelsen teaches Drama at the high school, and she said she was excited to bring Shrek the Musical to her students and jumped at the chance to produce it. "I did not love the movie but when I saw the musical -- it just had so much heart and character development. Each character is important," she said.

The sets for Shrek's swamp and the fairy tale land of Far Far Away were built and painted by high school students under the artistic direction of Randy Blackburn.  Blackburn first became involved with Lehi's drama department when his son was performing.

"After my son graduated his friends that were still juniors and sophomores sort of insisted, 'You've got to come back for our year,'" he said. That was more than six years ago.

Despite being legally blind before receiving his first of four cornea transplants, Blackburn always had a desire to make art. He's done textile design, taught classes on water colors and ran his own studio. Blackburn said he painted almost all of the murals found in the LDS Church's Polynesian Cultural center. He currently designs and oversees gardens around the U.S.

For the set of Shrek, Blackburn worked with student Rick Patterson as his junior stage designer. They and the crew built a rope bridge, Princess Fiona's castle, and a painted proscenium arch that, before it was hung from the ceiling, stretched from the back of the auditorium all the way to the stage.

Nelsen said, "Randy is the best thing that ever happened to us." Blackburn has donated hundreds of hours and helped countless students. Blackburn remembers being mentored himself by both his junior high and high school art teachers. "My high school teacher, Evan Nelson, would come in at like 5:30 in the morning and he taught me how to draw," he said.

Blackburn says he enjoys mentoring the students because he can focus on developing their talents and leave policing teenage behavior to their teachers.

Putting together a high school drama production requires so much work that Nelsen says it's about much more than entertainment. It gives the students the opportunity to live in someone else's life. She said, long before taking the stage, her students write papers and discuss what they need to learn from their characters. "Educational theater teaches the kids that life is about more than me and my problems," Nelsen said.

 "We're not trying to make them stars," Nelsen said. "Our goal is to make them better people. Doing Shrek they realize that what makes us special and different and wonderful is what makes us strong," she said.

Shrek the Musical will run November 21st through the 26th in the Lehi High School auditorium. The show starts each day at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday the 23rd. Tickets may be purchased at the door and cost $7 for adults and $5 for students. Lehi High School is located at 180 N. 500 East.

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