Traditionally, “joint productions” between Shawnee universities St. Gregory’s University and Oklahoma Baptist University focus on athletics, course substitutions, or an occasional joint meeting of student chapters of professional organizations. This time, “joint production” refers to a collaboration between the St. Gregory’s University Department of Theatre, and the Oklahoma Baptist University Division of Music. The two entities have come together for their first “official” joint production — this time the perennial favorite musical, Once Upon a Mattress.
With music by Mary Rogers, lyrics by Marshall Barer, and book by Barer, Jay Thompson, and Dean Fuller, Once Upon a Mattress is the story of Prince Dauntless, who, thanks to his difficult mother, has managed to maintain his bachelorhood intact. His mother, Queen Aggravain, believes that each of his potential brides-to-be is unworthy of her son, and requires that they pass an impossible gauntlet of tests (12 candidates have already failed). Princess Winifred, another candidate for Dauntless is forced to sleep on a fantastic twenty-layer bed as her climactic challenge in the pre-nuptial tryouts. Originally written in 1958 as a diversion for a summer camp in the Poconos, the show opened in May, 1959, at the Phoenix Theatre in New York, and ran for 460 performances. Carol Burnett premiered the role of Princess Winifred, and countless other actresses have pursued that role as well, including Sarah Jessica Parker (of HBO’s Sex and the City) in a 1996 revival.
Both students and faculty members are excited about the possibilities of this joint effort.
OBU junior music major Keri Burman, who will play the role of Lady Larken, said, “"I am excited about the production because it is an opportunity to work and grow as a musical theatre performer with an extremely diverse group of people! I have also made some new friends and contacts at St. Greg's, and I think it is a wonderful way to bring the two neighboring schools together outside of the athletic venue. I am a part of this project because entertainment is the heartbeat of my work, and because I know that I will learn even more about my craft from every performer I have the honor of working with on each new stage."
St. Gregory’s student Joshua Shawnee, playing Sir Harry, said, “"My experience with 'Once Upon a Mattress' has been outstanding! This light-hearted and fun musical has brought together two different academic and spiritual communities for the sake of art and entertainment . It doesn't get any better than this!"
Musical Director and OBU music faculty member Rhetta Hudson cites the great opportunities for students to grow artistically by stretching their “comfort zones.” She is enthusiastic about the possibilities for Shawnee’s artistic community by coming together and joining forces for a wider variety of possibilities.
Director Lee Neibert said, “We are very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with our neighbors down the street. Rhetta Hudson and I have found a very well rounded and diverse array of student performers for the cast. It is really nice to match talents with another school. This is a very strong company of actors, singers, and dancers and I am really excited to see the final project. We were able to achieve a balance in the number of students in the show from each university. This is especially true for the four principle characters. I feel that every person in the cast is equally vital to the success of the production, but it thrills me that we were able to achieve true balance with these four characters: Princess Winnifred, (played by Tracey Blewett, SGU), Prince Dauntless (played by Jeremy Simmons, OBU), Lady Larken (played by Keri Berman, OBU), and Sir Harry (played by Joshua Shawnee, SGU). This kind of equilibrium in a joint university production is crucial and absolutely exciting.”
The artistic community in Shawnee is vibrant and active, with productions and concerts from not only St. Gregory’s and OBU, but from the Shawnee Little Theatre, the Ritz, and visiting concerts and performances in other venues. This first “official” joint effort between the two schools represents a coming together for not only artistic benefit, but for educational benefit as well. Students pursuing degrees in music and theatre will profit from working with gifted and experienced faculty members outside of their respective institutions, gaining new perspective and insight into the definition and realization of their individual craft.
Equally significant, however, are the opportunities for Shawnee residents, OBU students, and St. Gregory’s students to grow and learn from the collaboration between these two schools. Arthur Holmes, in The Idea of A Christian College (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ, 1975), suggests, “A person develops intellectually in learning from others& .Her history is that of her society, her values are shaped by other sand shape others in turn, she exercises her freedom with regard for the freedom of others. Community arises from the social nature of those whose common stake in life and common values unite them in a common task.” Indeed, this joint production represents an opportunity for the artistic community in Shawnee to grow, learn, and be challenged.
Similarly, those involved will have the opportunity to grow as affective and social beings, one of the significant purposes of experiential education. Arthur Holmes further suggests, “& a person is not just an intellect, assimilating knowledge and gaining cognitive skills. We are also affective and social beings, and these dimensions of personality have to grow too if one is to become an effective and responsible person.” Surely the performers, as well as the directors, involved in this joint effort will benefit in this regard.
Once Upon a Mattress, produced jointly by St. Gregory’s University and Oklahoma Baptist University, represents an opportunity to further the arts in the Shawnee community, and gives students and audience members an opportunity to grow, learn, be delighted, laugh, and be moved by a gifted and dedicated troupe.