Photo: The cast of “Once Upon A Mattress” rehearsed on Monday evening. The show will be performed in the Kaneland High School auditorium July 11-13 and 18-20. This will be Kaneland Arts Initiative’s fifth annual Summer Theatre production. ‘The Minstrel’ will be played by Teresa Arnold (from left) of Hoffman Estates, Ill., while ‘The Jester’ will be played by Stephen Hommowun of St. Charles, and ‘King Sextimus the Silent’ will be played by Peter Lopatin of Sugar Grove.
KANELAND—Pamela Gianakakos may be a first-grade teacher at Kaneland McDole Elementary School, but these days she’s also a princess from the swamp.
That’s because Gianakakos is playing the role of Princess Winnifred the Kaneland Arts Initiative’s (KAI) upcoming Summer Theatre production, “Once Upon a Mattress,” which will take place this weekend, July 11-13, and next weekend, July 18-20.
Before she hit the stage for rehearsal, Gianakakos sat on the makeup table in front of a mirror lined with lightbulbs. She was dressed in a huckleberry peasant-style costume draped in seaweed, and with a tiny gold crown on top of her head.
“This is the role I’ve always wanted to play,” she said. “So it’s kind of like a dream come true. So that’s what makes this summer show so special to me.”
Monday marked the first day of “tech week” for the Summer Theatre production. Maria Dripps-Paulson, executive director of KAI, and producer and pit orchestra director for “Once Upon A Mattress,” stood in the long rectangular pit, directing 20 musicians. She waved a baton in hand, keeping the beat as strings, percussion, brass and woodwinds created music.
“Let’s do that again,” Dripps-Paulson said. “I want to go faster.”
Meanwhile, a stack of “mattresses” covered in plain and patterned material, standing about 7 feet tall, had been rolled across the stage, making its exit.
Dreamy strings sounded as actors practiced a song between father and son characters. The father is King Sextimus the Silent, played by Peter Lopatin. Prince Dauntless the Drab is played by Alec Kovach. Lopatin is a Kaneland School Board member; Kovach is a Kaneland High School graduate.
Dripps-Paulson explained what makes Summer Theatre productions “so great.”
“What makes it unique for us yearly is that we get people who have never been on stage before to people who are veterans at any age,” she said.
The cast is made up of people ranging from ages 11 to 68. They are mostly from the Kaneland area, with some from St. Charles, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Yorkville and Geneva.
Diane McFarlin, director of the production, gave the cast lots of advice before it ran through the first half of the production.
She explained what the cast will have to do after the pit orchestra plays at the beginning.
“We pick it up from there,” McFarlin said. “You sell it at the beginning; you come alive with such a punch.”
She banged her fist into her hand for emphasis.
Audience members can expect creative dance moves, a huge gray castle standing 20 feet tall and a mirror dropping from a ceiling.
There’s plenty of singing and some romantic moments in store, as well. And a certain princess from the swamp acts and sings with a boldness and heart.
Erica Johnson, 15, lives in the Maple Park area. She plays two roles: a lady in waiting and The Nightingale of Samarkand. She will be singing while perched in a humongous cage.
“Sometimes we all get nervous (about performing on stage),” Johnson said. “It goes away once you’re on stage. And you get used to it.”
Nia Damgova, 17, of St. Charles, will play the cello in the pit.
“It’s really exciting because you get to watch everyone,” she said.
Lopatin, who is McFarlin’s husband, explained what it’s like to have the energy from the audience while performing on stage.
“Oh, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “And the audience is such an important part of every play. It really makes a difference for the actors—that kind of give-and-take back and forth is a terrific experience.”
Friday and Saturday performances for “Once Upon A Mattress” will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, and $25 for a Family Ticket, which admits all family members currently living in one household.
Groups interested in seeing the show should call (630) 365-5100, ext. 180, for group-rate pricing. For more information, visit www.kanelandartsinitiative.org.