By Raena Doty
Asst. Arts & Features Editor
The Hilltop Players, Framingham State’s theater group, will perform “Once Upon a Mattress,” a ’50s musical adaptation of “The Princess and the Pea” on the weekend of Dec. 2.
“Once Upon a Mattress” tells the story of Queen Aggravain who has decided to set the highest of standards for any potential wife for her son Prince Dauntless, which most princesses are unable to meet - except Princess Winnifred, who is a bit different from the other princesses.
Elizabeth Walker, a senior English major, is directing the musical. She said she’s been involved with The Hilltop Players since her freshman year but only ever as an actor, and this musical marks the first time she’s been on the production staff for a show.
She said last semester she was asked to create a proposal for this semester’s musical show because no one else stepped up to propose a musical.
“I’ve been doing theater since I was about 8 or so - just the acting side of it all,” Walker said. “I’m not exactly sure why I was [asked to propose a musical]. … At first I was very much just like, ‘No, no thank you, that is not something I am familiar with,’ and it’s very scary because it is very different than acting. You’re doing essentially everything else as a director.
“I was a little nervous at first but then I started thinking about it, and I was like, I would always think, ‘What if?’ if I didn’t do it,” she said.
She said she thought the pandemic likely affected The Hilltop Players’ trajectory because fewer people joined when the meetings were virtual and the group wasn’t able to do shows like they had in years prior. However, she added “Once Upon a Mattress” is a sign that The Hilltop Players will be successful since it has a large cast and it’s going well.
“We always tried our best to do the weekly meetings still and be engaged in that way when we couldn’t actually put on performances. But I’m very happy we can actually put on performances and stuff again,” Walker said.
As director, she said it’s her job to coordinate the cast and crew members and delegate responsibilities, while simultaneously following the Hilltop constitution. Walker said she shapes the creative vision for the show, directing what the actors will do and how the show will look.
The production team includes a producer, stage manager, music director, and tech director.
Meeghan Bresnahan, a senior history major and the president of The Hilltop Players, is the music director, and an actor in the musical.
She said she works to make sure all the music sounds good and is balanced. All the instrumental parts of the music will be played electronically, and she said she has to make sure they’re balanced correctly for the audience to be able to hear.
She also helps the actors to hit the right notes when singing.
Bresnahan said her favorite part of working on the show is the community and friendships made while doing it. “I’m really good friends with the director and other members of the [production] cast,” she said.
Abrianna Ouellette, a freshman psychology major, is the stage manager for “Once Upon a Mattress.” Her duties include organizing the props, writing down blocking in the script, and controlling the curtains.
She said it’s unusual for a freshman to have a job on the production staff, but she has experience working backstage during productions at her high school.
Matt Donahoe, senior computer science major, is the tech director for the musical and technical chair of The Hilltop Players. His responsibilities include building and coordinating the set pieces.
“The most memorable part of the musical so far has been finishing the 6-foot-tall stack of mattresses. It is by far the largest and heaviest set piece I have had to make. Sitting on top of it once it was done was cathartic because I had been nervous about that set piece the entire semester,” Donahoe said.
Ellie Lynch, a junior psychology major, is the producer for this production.
“What I do as a producer is a little funky cause I've never done it before, but how I've been describing it is essentially providing support to the director during rehearsals and during tech week I've been backstage organizing props and crew things,” they said.
“My most memorable moment during the process was strangely the auditions, even though they happened so long ago. I liked hearing everybody's singing and acting talents. Obviously there are people who can sing, but there were some surprises and I remember writing in my notes, ‘Wow, they sang really freaking good’ a few times,” Lynch said.
“I think with all [production] staff roles you need to be so communicative, so open-minded, calm demeanor because it can sometimes get a little stressful,” Walker said.
Christina Chinetti, a junior child and family studies major, plays Princess Winnifred, the female lead of the play. She’s been involved with The Hilltop Players in the past and said part of why she wanted to be in “Once Upon a Mattress” is because “Little Women,” the musical scheduled for the Spring 2022 semester, was canceled at the last minute.
“I have been doing musicals since high school and have been a part of Hilltop Players [since] freshman year. It was never a question of whether I was going to audition or not,” she said.
Chinetti said the most memorable moment from the production was when she found out she was cast as Princess Winnifred.
“I've never been the lead of anything before and this has been a dream of mine since middle school, so it was a really surreal moment I'll never forget,” she said.
Olivia Copeland, a junior English major and the secretary of The Hilltop Players, plays Lady Larken and the Nightingale. She’s been involved with the club since the Spring 2021 semester, when she auditioned for “The Nineteenth.”
She said her favorite memory working on the show was when they did the Paper Plate Awards.
“We have a tradition in Hilltop called the Paper Plate Awards, where the director or another production staff member of a show uses a paper plate to craft an award for each cast member that celebrates a specific moment, line, or contribution during the production that has made a positive impact on the show,” she said.
Walker said, “When I received [my Paper Plate Award] as a freshman in [‘The Great Gatsby’], it really made me feel a sense of belonging in the production, even if it was a silly little drawing on a paper plate! Most directors I’ve worked with have done them as well, and they’re just a lighthearted reward for the director to give to the cast as a ‘thank you’ for all they’ve done, but they’ve turned into a really anticipated tradition towards the end of each production.”
Tadiwa Chitongo, senior biochemistry major, plays Sir Harry, Lady Larken’s love interest. Because COVID-19 hit during their freshman year, they said they wanted to go out with “one last hurrah.” They also were interested in working with Walker because they were already friends.
They said they joined The Hilltop Players their freshman year. “It’s funny because I was looking at the Hilltop meeting schedule and it just so happened that the exact time I was looking, there was a meeting going. And the rest is history,” they said.
Walker said, “We just got the costumes in and things are getting solidified, and as someone who hasn’t even been on a production staff or has been a director before, there have been times where I have been insecure about what I’m doing.
“Seeing the production come into life and come into fruition, maybe I cut myself some slack. I did an OK job,” she said. “Really seeing it come to life has been very rewarding.”