The young actors at Chilliwack School of Performing Arts are getting ready to bring Once Upon A Mattress to the Cultural Centre stage Jan. 16-27.
The 1950s musical comedy, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, features a strong female lead, plus some interesting challenges for CSOPA’s actors.
“The premise of the story is nobody in the kingdom can get married until Prince Dauntless (the Drab) gets married, and they just can’t seem to find a suitable princess because Mom tests all of them and they all fail one way or another,” says Lisa Braun, CSOPA’s artistic director and director of this production.
“It’s pretty stinkin’ funny actually,” laughs Braun. “I love that it’s funny because I’m such a big believer that if you make people laugh then you open them up to new ideas.”
Prince Dauntless the Drab, played by 19-year-old Yiorgos Sahamis, is “a 36-year-old man child whose mom has bubble-wrapped him,” which makes for some fun hijinks, says Braun.
“It’s so great to take a character whose archetype could be played very one-noted and try to find a million other things underneath it,” says Sahamis.
Female lead, Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, will be played by 17-year-old Katie Schram.
“Winnifred comes into the kingdom with a different outlook on life in general. She’s a breath of fresh air in the kingdom and looks at the world differently,” says Braun.
“I really love Winnifred because she’s so positive and tenacious and she has a really good sense of self — she knows who she is all the time. She bursts onto the scene with that energy,” says Schram about her character. “Throughout the show we get to see that she is just like everybody else. She has her self-doubts and things, but it never overshadows her positivity.”
A total of 33 young actors make up the cast of Once Upon A Mattress. They range in age from 12 to 19 and they will all be triple threats: acting, singing and dancing in the show.
Many of the girls have taken on the challenge of playing men in the production.
Robyn Jensen, 15, is one of them, but she has an additional challenge. Her character, King Sextimus the Silent, is exactly what you think — silent.
“Her biggest challenge has been for her to tell her entire story physically,” says Braun.
“I technically do have lines, I’m just performing them in a different way,” adds Jensen. “I find it really fun to communicate in a different way than normal.”
“He’s light-hearted even in the situation he’s in at that moment,” she says of King Sextimus. “He doesn’t take anything too seriously, considering how his wife is.”
Jensen, Schram, Sahamis and the 30 other actors are a talented bunch.
“There are times we’ve done shows and people think we are a touring production from New York,” says Braun.
CSOPA runs as if it were a professional theatre company; they’ve put 700-plus hours into the production, and it shows.
The kids are well-behaved, act mature, and are quiet when the director is speaking. Everyone moves quickly between scenes. They repeat commands to ensure they’ve been heard.
They are indeed dedicated. The young actors spent the majority of their two-week Christmas break at the studio. Some have shirts which read “I can’t… I have rehearsal.”
“Theatre is such a great education for life skills — the work ethic that’s required, the teamwork, the ability to empathize and put yourself in someone else’s shoes — those are really strong skills that make incredible people for the community,” says Braun.
Rounding out the team is AnneLise Woyke (co-producer with Braun), choreographer Emily Henney, vocal director Lisa Zimmer, orchestral director Trischa Buhler, props and stage manager Kessia Warren, set designer Brian Ball, lights by Jamea Lister, costumes by Emily Hamel, and hair and makeup by Marissa Kapusta.
Buhler brings with her a live orchestra of 12, made up of kids and adults.
“Our children don’t belong to us, they are their own people,” says Braun. “They are kids, but they’re limitless in their abilities — we shouldn’t limit them just because of their age. Our job is to help them learn to fly. They’re capable of really great things.”
CSOPA’s Once Upon A Mattress runs Jan. 16-27 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Show times are: previews on Jan. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.; evening performances on Jan. 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m.; matinées on Jan. 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $24.30/adults, $20.30/students and seniors, $13.30/preview. Call 604-391-SHOW or visit chilliwackculturalcentre.ca for tickets.