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VHS Drama Department shakes up a tired tale with “Once Upon a Mattress”

Actors in the VHS play

Actors in the VHS play "Once Upon a Mattress" take their bows onstage. Credit: Kazu Koba/The Foothill Dragon Press

Katie Sones

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Actors in the VHS play "Once Upon a Mattress" take their bows onstage. Credit: Kazu Koba/The Foothill Dragon Press

Actors in the VHS play “Once Upon a Mattress” take their bows onstage. Credit: Katie Sones/The Foothill Dragon Press

The Ventura High School Drama Department turned the tale of “The Princess and the Pea” on its head with their production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” which told a tale of love, friendship, and standing up for yourself.

Premiering last night, the play told a different story than the classic fairytale. The main character, Princess Winifred, was a princess who wasn’t consumed with her royalty, and made modern day wise cracks instead of talking like a Medieval English royal, and had new supporting characters and subplots.

VHS Drama Department head Stefoni Rossiter directed and choreographed the production. She said she picked “Once Upon a Mattress” because, “I just fell in love with it, you know, it’s really cute. I like that it’s a fairytale, that it has kind of an adult spin on it. I think it’s good for high schoolers to be exploring that spoof element.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original production of “Once Upon a Mattress” debuted in 1959 and helped to launch Carol Burnett’s career. The Ventura High Drama Department put their own spin on the play, adding more dancing to the performance.

“I have a dance background, so a lot of this show, if you see somebody else do it, there isn’t quite as much dance. There’s a lot of dance in this, and that’s a little bit different than [the original production],” Rossiter said.

There was dancing in almost every scene, by both the ensemble cast and the main characters. Senior Madeleine Schreifels’ dance background helped with all her dancing parts as star Princess Winnifred.

“She’s just multi-talented, she’s from Minnesota and she likes to say that when she came here people thought she was quirky and she just used that quirkiness [in her performance],” Rossiter said of Schreifels.

Not all of the the actors had as much experience as Schreifels. Senior Corey Portugal, who played the supporting role of Sir Harry and had many singing solos, had never sung in front of an audience before.

“Originally I auditioned for ensemble, so I had no idea going in. I thought I was just going to be in the back dancing, but for Sir Harry, when I got the callback, I kind of just made myself get into character,” Portugal said.

Even without established performance backgrounds, Rossiter thought the play was a success.

“There’s a lot of new people in this cast, people who have not performed ever, and I don’t think that you could tell that tonight, which is amazing,” she said.

The cast began working on the production in December, and performers and those who worked behind the scenes said there was lots of hard work put in in the three months before opening night.

When asked what was the hardest part about preparing for the performance, Portugal said, “It’s definitely the reading, getting all my lines memorized.”

While the actors spent the last three months rehearsing their lines and dance numbers, the stage craft classes had to make sets and costumes for the performance in the same time.

“Everything that was on set, was done by stagecraft,” said VHS senior and House Manager Shannon Moore. “The hardest part of stagecraft was getting organized, getting everyone together.”

The entire show was run by students on opening night.

“My students built the set, designed the set, created the lighting, ran the whole show. I sat right back here in the 20th row and enjoyed the show, and they ran the whole thing,” said Rossiter.

Though they had huge responsibilities, the students involved enjoyed the experience.

“It’s been literally like a family bonding thing, and it’s been not what I expected,” Portugal said. “I’ve always done high school sports and stuff, so it’s been different, but kind of like the same mentality, camaraderie and everything.”

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VHS Drama Department shakes up a tired tale with “Once Upon a Mattress”