Caleb Clark knows Shrek. He’s played the musical ogre once before, and he’s about to take the stage at Red Mountain Theatre to do it again. That follows a run of shows that includes “Matilda,” “Company” and “Buyer and Cellar,” as well as concerts including with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Clark, who is also an artist (check out his work at @parnassusonwater on Instagram), took some time to answer some questions about his busy career and “Shrek,” which opens June 2 and runs through June 25.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where you grew up? Went to school? What you’ve done since then?
I grew up in Munford, Alabama. I was homeschooled all 12 years, and that educational method, along with very supportive parents, made a lot of room for studying voice and getting involved with local theaters. After college, I started taking all the work I could get in regional theaters across the country. I been very lucky to have made that work and to have found an artistic home in Birmingham for the last seven years.
What first sparked your interest in acting?
I saw the PBS great performances broadcast of “Into The Woods” when I was 7 years old. Shortly after, my family started attending every Birmingham Children’s Theatre performance we could get our hands on. Those experiences really opened my eyes to the world of theater, and I can’t say I’ve wanted anything else ever since. Acting has been the one constant thing in my life since I was very, very young.
You’ve done a lot of stage work. What has been your most memorable show thus far? Why?
Oh that’s not easy to answer. I kind of see my career in chunks of work that I love for different reasons. I had a season of classical theater at Georgia Shakespeare. “The Importance of Being Earnest” was and still is one of the most rewarding projects of my life. “Matilda” at Red Mountain was a time of joy in my life that I always carry with me. And there were several shows at my beloved Terrific New Theatre with my dear friend, Tam DeBolt, that taught me more about myself and my work than anything has to date.
Do you have a “day job,” or are you making a living as a working actor?
I have enjoyed what I call “patchwork income” my entire adult life. It’s what you have to do to successfully give your life to the thing you love. I’m a visual artist as well, so I do sell paintings. I am a soloist with several sacred and secular music ensembles. And of course, I’ve done my fair share of table waiting in the slow seasons!
You’ve done “Shrek” before, at Atlanta’s acclaimed Alliance Theatre. How did that come up, and how was that experience?
That role came to me as many things have — I met some really kind people who wanted to offer me an opportunity. In this case it was the wonderful Rosemary Newcott at the Alliance Theatre. I had actually moved away from Atlanta and she tracked me down and asked me to come in for the show. I’m so glad I did. Working at the Alliance is a true joy.
Any hesitation doing the show again?
Absolutely not. It’s a beautiful story with a message that our world needs desperately. I’m honored to have another crack at it.
Is it easier or more difficult (or, at times, both) doing a role so soon after you did it elsewhere?
Well a whole decade has passed since my time with Shrek in Atlanta, so it’s been very different because I’m a very different person now. I am so grateful to have another opportunity to bring 10 more years of life to a story like “Shrek.”
What do you think it is about “Shrek,” the musical and the character, that resonates with people?
It’s about what we do to ourselves. The way we shove ourselves into boxes with labels when the people who love us desperately want to show us how magical and beautiful we really are. Like Shrek, we build up walls and sometimes it takes unlikely friends to tear them down.
Can you tell me a bit about the show, what people can expect?
The show is BIG. It’s going to be a visual, musical feast and you’re going to see the vision of some truly brilliant creatives executed by one of my favorite ensembles I’ve worked with.
Are the makeup and costumes difficult? Does it take a while to become Shrek?
Oh, it takes time and a village of people. I’m in four layers, three microphones (I sweat a lot, OK?) and prosthetics. It’s surprisingly lightweight and workable, and a lot of work has gone in to make sure I don’t feel trapped in the costumes and make up.
You’ve done all sorts of different roles, including non-musical roles, in Birmingham in recent years. Have you mixed it up intentionally, or is that just happenstance?
I am drawn to stories. And every story has a different way that it needs to be told. I’ve been so fortunate not to have been locked in to only one type of work. There are so many things I’m interested in, and it keeps my creative life fulfilling and interesting to get to work in different facets of our industry. In a way, I guess it has been intentional because I get bored pretty easily.
What’s your dream role (that you haven’t played, yet)?
Georges Seurat in “Sunday in the Park with George” is a big one. And a whole laundry list of Shakespeare’s fellas. Anyone planning a production of “The Winter’s Tale” is encouraged to inquire within.
What’s next for you after “Shrek”?
I’m really looking forward to some down time after this one! After the work that has gone into this production, I’m excited to have time to give some love to my people who support me so unfailingly when I’m in the middle of a big project. There are a few things I’m writing and hoping to get out there in the near future. As Shrek says, “It’s a big, bright, beautiful world with possibilities everywhere.”
“Shrek,” at Red Mountain Theatre June 2-25. Tickets start at $32 for adults and $25 for children. Roy Lightner directs, with Sara Brians choreographing and musical direction by Anthony Smith. The cast includes Caleb Clark, Alie B. Gorrie, Dorian, Halo Wheeler and Blake West. For more information on the show, click here.