Back under the lights

‘Once Upon a Mattress’ provides students with their first musical since COVID-19 hit

Juniors+Annabelle+Shrieves+and+Grayson+Meece+sing+along+together+during+rehearsals+of+the+fall+musical%2C+Once+Upon+a+Mattress.+They+say+that+performing+without+masks+is+somwething+new+for+them.

Ryder Harris

Juniors Annabelle Shrieves and Grayson Meece sing along together during rehearsals of the fall musical, ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ They say that performing without masks is somwething new for them.

The time that theater students and fanatics have all been waiting for is finally here.

After two years of no performances in the SHS auditorium, student cast members will take to the stage tonight to perform this year’s musical “Once Upon A Mattress.”

When the pandemic started back in 2019, no one had any clue just how long it would last. That being said, no one knew when the theater department would be able to produce another musical or show in general. 

“You take things for granted, as we all did before the pandemic, and then when you get to get back to something that’s normal again it’s just a really great feeling,” co-director Kim Roberts said. “It’s extra special because we’ve been away from it for so long.”

One person who is especially happy to be getting back to normal again is junior Annabelle Shrieves who plays the lead of the musical, Winnifred. 

Shrieves states that the cast is still supposed to wear masks backstage and are still supposed to follow COVID-19 protocols but there is still a feeling of normalcy.

“I think that everyone’s happy now that we get to go back to semi-normal,” Shrieves said. “We still have to be cautious but we’re getting back into it.”

The musical was actually set to be produced last year but when COVID-19 numbers spiked again, they had to delay the musical another year. 

Although normalcy and excitement were in the air, restrictions were still taken into consideration. They are minimal, but they are still there and must be followed. 

Rehearsals have been taking place in the choir room where they’ve had to wear masks for every rehearsal. Once they took the rehearsal process to the stage, the masks were able to come off, and the true process began. 

Rehearsals took place almost every day of the week for roughly four hours each day. Sometimes they went on for longer and other times they were a little shorter. 

Seniors Emma Meredith and Hayden Brite dance on stage during rehearsal. Dance coach Jessi Walpole choreographed all the dance moves. (Grace Elder)

“It’s weird because kids have masks on at rehearsal. That’s odd,” Roberts said. “You can’t hear them and see them the way you normally would. We’re now allowed to take our masks off at rehearsal, on stage but it’s sort of strange.”

Co-director Jaclyn Richardson has directed this particular musical before and has also performed as the lead. She says that there are still some protocols that have to be followed, but otherwise the performance will seem normal.  

“The kids are asked to wear masks when they aren’t on stage,” Richardson said. “The audience will be asked to wear a mask. But, other than that it’s open seating. At this point I think everyone knows what they’re risking.”

The performance itself, for Shrieves, will be a risk of sorts. She says that tonight will be the first time she’ll be on stage for longer than an hour. She was a lead in the dramatic reading of “Distance,” the student-written-and-directed musical that was performed at the end of last school year, but she was only on stage for around 45 minutes.

As a freshman, Shrieves was head stage manager for the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” The last performance of that musical was on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. It proved to be SHS’s last full theater performance before the pandemic. 

Although she has a lot of nervous jitters for opening night, Shrieves is excited to show off her talent that she didn’t get to show her freshman year, especially since she wants to study theater in college. 

“It’s a step closer in the direction of what I want to do when I grow up,” Shrieves said. 

There has been a lot of time and effort that has gone into this production, but Shrieves says the benefit will be the opportunities it creates for the students in it. 

“I’m not sure what it means to everybody,” Shrieves said. “Some people feel it’s a fun pastime but for the people who are really passionate, it’s creating open doors for them.” 

Senior Ralston Bantug says that getting back on stage is daunting.

He says it’s scary to think that after all this time, he might not have what it takes anymore. But, he says, it’s exciting nonetheless. 

“Getting back into acting, I’m happy,” Bantug said. “But, am I still on the ropes, you know? Do I still have it? Do I still got it? So it’s exciting, but it’s also kind of scary.” 

  The show also proved to be a challenge for Jessi Walpole, the SHS dance team coach and English teacher, who choreographed each of the musical numbers for the show.

“I’m not used to teaching routine to such a large group of people. I’m used to 20-30 people max,” Walpole said. “I think the biggest challenge is trying to instruct and demonstrate what emotion really is to everyone at the same time in a small space with that many people.”

Regardless, Walpole says the effort will be worth it. She says “Once upon A Mattress” is a funny and entertaining show meant for everybody. 

“It’s a feel good show that you can go to, kids can go to, adults can go to and you’re going to laugh and have a really good time,” Walpole said. “I think that’s something that everybody can use right now.”