The Minstrel, played by sophomore Justin Rasnake, has a reflective moment during the beginning of Act II.
The Minstrel, played by sophomore Justin Rasnake, has a reflective moment during the beginning of Act II. (THE EVENING SUN -- CLARE BECKER)
Students dressed in medieval garb stand on the stage of South Western High School, staring at the atypical princess before them.

She is the newest contender for the prince's hand in marriage, and clearly not what the people of the fictional kingdom expected.

Princess Winnifred, played by senior Meghan Clouspy, is attempting to explain her unique and quirky personality to the questioning onlookers.

"I have always been..." she says, pausing between each word.

Members of the ensemble move in closer to Clouspy, pretending her projected voice is soft and timid.

"Shy!" she sings loudly. "I confess it, I'm shy!"

Cast members feign falling backwards from shock as the princess continues to sing.

"Can't you guess that this confident air is just a mask that I wear 'cause I'm shy," Clouspy belts.

Just as Winnifred isn't as weak or meek as her song suggests, the cast members of "Once Upon A Mattress" are anything but shy on stage.

The students dance, sing and perform confidently as they tell the "true" story of the "Princess and the Pea."

But some didn't start off that way. Director Duane Bull said one of the most rewarding aspects of working with students is watching them grow as both actors and people.

"There are some that come in so timid," Bull said. "It's great to see them come out of their shell."

He said the musical offers students a chance to be absolutely free and expressive on stage.

Some students said they have a confidence pretending to be somebody else on stage they don't have in their day to day lives.

"It's very easy to be shy when you're being yourself," said sophomore Justin Rasnake, who narrates the musical as the minstrel.

Justin, who hopes to have a career in musical theater or vocal performance, loves becoming a completely different person on stage, even if it's only for a few hours.

"It's like you're taking off your own mask and putting on another one," he said.

Princess Winnifred (senior Meghan Clouspy) listens to Prince Dauntless (senior Michael Garland) during a scene in the musical s second act.
Princess Winnifred (senior Meghan Clouspy) listens to Prince Dauntless (senior Michael Garland) during a scene in the musical s second act. (THE EVENING SUN -- CLARE BECKER)
"I think it's a very good way for people to express themselves."

But before Justin could fully become his character, he had to do some research.

"I didn't know what the princess and the pea was," he said with a laugh.

Justin said his biggest challenge, besides putting on the tights for his costume, was learning the detailed version of the musical's story.

His character opens the show by explaining how Princess Winnifred was actually one of 13 girls who came to the castle hoping to wed the prince. Throughout the show, the minstrel continues to point out the discrepancies between the commonly known story and his "true" version.

"It's really hard," he said. "But I love every bit of it."

If you go

What: Once Upon a Mattress, the musical

When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday

Where: South Western High School

Tickets: $10 at the door.