They started arriving more than three hours early to get prepped with makeup, costumes and wireless microphones.
What was barely imaginable in recent years was about to be realized for some eager Oak Harbor High School students, with a mere matter of hours now being the only obstacle.
“We were all really anxious,” senior Sophie Marks said.
Finally, out of the darkness, a man wearing a black suit jacket and purple tie appeared from behind a curtain. He walked to center stage and the wait was over.
“Hello, I’m Charles Smothermon,” he told the small audience. “I’d like to welcome you to opening night of ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’”
FOR THE next two and a half hours, a cast and crew of more than 50 performed a musical comedy that was music to the ears of many of the high school’s choir and drama students and staff.
The musical was the first production on the high school’s main stage in the auditorium in three years and only the second since construction of the Student Union Building was completed in December of 2009.
Most significantly, the event marked the return of theater to Oak Harbor High School.
OHHS WAS without a drama club since 2008. That changed when Smothermon was hired as a drama teacher last school year. He relaunched the club in the spring, paving the way for theater productions to return to the school.
He’s quick to point out, however, that “Once Upon a Mattress,” is a collaborative effort between the drama and choir clubs. Smothermon is the show’s director. Darren McCoy, the high school’s choral director, is producer.
“Darren’s show choir is such a phenomenal group,” Smothermon said. “It’s integral to the show in what we do. He’s an incredible teacher. He’s one of our best teachers. He’s just a really, really incredible guy to work with. He prepares them so well musically.
“He’s a big part of why we’re doing what we’re doing here.”
IT WAS McCoy who directed the only other production on the school’s new stage, the musical, “Into the Woods,” three years ago.
McCoy welcomed the addition of Smothermon to the school’s staff. They wasted little time joining forces to relaunch stage productions.
Smothermon and McCoy settled on the idea of producing “Once Upon a Mattress” last spring.
Word spread quickly.
“After we found out we were doing another musical, all the choir kids freaked out and were so excited,” said Katie McClimans, a senior and choir club president who plays one of the key roles in the play, Princess Winnifred.
MCCLIMANS performed in “Into the Woods” as a freshman, then turned to the Whidbey Playhouse for theater opportunities over the past two years.
“’Into the Woods’ was such a good experience,” McClimans said, “and we wanted to have that last hurrah before graduation.”
Smothermon said he likes the idea of kicking things off with a musical involving many students. He was familiar with “Once Upon a Mattress” during his time as a drama teacher in Sheridan, Mont.
“It’s a takeoff of the fairy tale, ‘The Princess and the Pea,’ with a few twists,” Smothermon said.
“We have a domineering queen. We have one couple that must marry and other couples who want to marry, and an overbearing queen who is standing in the way of all of them.”
MARKS PLAYS the role of the play’s central figure, Queen Aggravain, displaying tantrums at every turn. Also playing the queen is Melody Anthony.
“This show is wonderful for so many reasons,” said Smothermon, a former lawyer. “It gives our students lots of opportunities. It’s a very active, busy show. There are a lot of things going on, many different roles.”
“We’re able to have a huge cast. There are a lot of reasons why it works for us right now.
“Right now is the right time and the right place to do this for our kids to get them excited about theater again and get them involved. It’s a great vehicle for them.”
McCoy said that the play suits the cast well.
“We wanted a show with a funny plot line, catchy music, and strong female leads,” McCoy said. “Most high schools have more girls than boys in a production so we chose one with more female leads.”
Others who play key roles in the musical include: Tyler O’Dell, who plays Prince Dauntless, Braden Robbins (Cardamom the Wizard), Michael Garon (Sir Harry), Patrick Punch (mute King Sextimus), Dejsha Lollar (Lady Larkin), Tiffany Andrukat (Minstrel), Cassidy Rydell (Jester) and Rhiannon Doney (Princess Perfection).
“WE HAVE this big stage, which is just a blast,” said Robbins, who’s also plays football at Oak Harbor. “We have this amazing cast, too. It’s exciting to be here every day.”
“I was really excited because this is actually my first speaking role in a play,” Doney said. “I really want to pursue singing and acting outside of high school so I really like it. It’s showing me what rehearsals are going to be like. I really enjoy it. It’s definitely a really big part of my senior year.”
Such a production is typically a year in the making, McCoy said, with many hands playing parts from the beginning.
“We knew we had to get lots of parents involved to make it happen and that means planning well in advance,” McCoy said. “Everything from reserving the building to getting a crew has to happen nearly a year in advance.”
ONCE THE new school year began, planning picked up. Auditions were held last fall. The chorus started working on music and choreography in January. Finally, rehearsals for the actors began in late March.
“We started developing ideas at the beginning of this school year but after auditions, we started making costumes, designing sets and clarifying our vision,” McCoy said.
The school’s principal, Dwight Lundstrom, was among many helpers who assisted with set construction. Many community members and businesses pitched in to help with the year-long project.
LUNDSTROM SAID he has watched many evolutions at the school in recent years with drama as one of the latest.
He said that drama took a backseat at the school after the previous drama director, Mary MacGowan, retired in 2008 and school construction got underway. At one point during construction, the main stage in the old Parker Hall was used for science classes.
“It had a garage door,” Lundstrom said. “When we ran chemistry labs, we could open the door for ventiliation.”
With the addition of Smothermon, drama classes are now offered at the high school. He started teaching beginning and advanced classes this school year.
SMOTHERMON SAID he hopes to produce two plays next school year.
O’Dell, a senior who has performed in about a dozen plays at the Whidbey Playhouse, likes the groundwork that has been laid at the high school.
“It’s nice getting the ball rolling for upcoming years,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell arrived at school more than three hours before the play Thursday to help Marks with her makeup and hair.
“It’s like an oil spill in my hair,” she said of the hair spray.
MARKS SAID the timing for the play at the end of her senior year is perfect.
“Your senior year, there is so much stress,” she said. “I’ve got to apply for school. I need this credit for this time. When you start to get the makeup on, you can let go of all that.
“You go on stage, you get a chance to be a kid again. What more could you want?”
“Once Upon a Mattress” continues with shows on May 4, 9, 10 and 11, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for kids 10 and under.
Tickets may be reserved by calling 360-279-5829, or email at email@example.com