(WFRV) – St. Mary Catholic High School students traveled back to Medieval times this weekend to perform Once Upon a Mattress.
The musical is a comedic take on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Princess and the Pea. Medieval Prince Dauntless hopes to find a princess to wed. None of the eligible women live up to his mother’s high standards, but one day the aloof Princess Winnifred arrives seeking his hand in marriage. Hoping to stop the marriage, the queen puts her to the test; if she can feel a pea under twenty mattresses in her sleep, she can marry the prince.
“Rehearsal process started in January, and we’ve met three days a week for the first month and then from there four or five days a week, and the last couple weeks have been pretty intense, especially with a couple snow days in there,” said Eric Conner, Fine Arts director at St. Mary Catholic Schools.
Maria Argueta, a senior playing the role of Queen Aggravain, says that musical theatre has been a big part of her life for years.
“I’ve been doing theatre with this community since I was in second grade, and it’s just my favorite people and my favorite space,” she told Local Five.
One of the challenges that Once Upon a Mattress posed was the Medieval setting, and Conner said the students spent plenty of time learning about the time period.
“With this show particularly, they get a great opportunity to see what older stories look like,” Conner said. “We’ve talked about dialect, and the history of the Medieval time period, so it’s been great for them to kind of learn throughout the process.”
Another challenge was producing a big show with a small cast.
“One challenge is we had a small cast this year, so we looked to the eighth graders from the middle school to come in and make our cast a little bigger,” Argueta said. “But we made it work. We’re tiny but mighty.”
Argueta’s character is the very talkative Queen Aggravain, and she found a creative way to memorize all that dialogue.
“Another challenge is the amount of lines that my character has. I have a giant monologue, and that took a lot of practice,” Argueta told Local Five. “For Christmas break, my family went to Disneyland, so during the long lines, I just sat there and learned my lines.”
Something unique that St. Mary Catholic does is a sensory friendly performance of the musical. This performance allowed a more accessible show for different audiences.
“The sensory friendly performance is one where we keep the house lights on at fifty percent, we keep our volume maxed at a certain decibel level, and then we take out all of the effects and moving light fixtures, things like that, so that those with sensory needs can enjoy a performance,” Conner explained.
“It was kind of to bring in a more diverse community of people, so somebody who might not be able to see a regular show for different purposes, they can come to the sensory friendly performance and have that experience still,” Argueta said.
St. Mary Catholic will be hosting more sensory friendly performances Summer 2023.
The school is also participating in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) Center Stage program this year. Theater programs are able to get their shows critiqued by a team that gives feedback to directors and students leading up to the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase event in May. St. Mary Catholic has been participating in the program since it began. Conner tells Local Five it’s a great way for students to get to know other musical theatre programs around Northeast Wisconsin.
“We’ve been involved in Center Stage from the very beginning, it is a great program and opportunity for our students to get to see other productions and high school shows around the area, and kind of learn about how collaboration takes place and how each school is unique and different,” Conner said.
Argueta says the feedback from last year’s show was helpful in putting together this year’s performance.
“We did [Center Stage] last year with Addams Family, and I know that we got a lot of good feedback, so that was great.”
Performances of Once Upon a Mattress were March 9-12 at St. Mary Catholic High School in Fox Crossing.