West Hartford Community Theater Presenting 'Once Upon A Mattress'

Dana Sachs has 48 years of experience directing musical productions.

In his eyes, working with West Hartford Community Theater has been the most professional community theater experience he's ever been part of.

"Community theaters can run the gamut," said Sachs, of Cheshire, who is in his second year directing for West Hartford Community Theatre. "I found this one to be the most professional one I've worked with. That was a strong attraction to me."

Terry Szymanski, West Hartford Community Theater's president and the producer of the upcoming production of Once Upon a Mattress, said that isn't an accident. They strive to provide a professional, welcoming, and inclusive atmosphere.

"We foster that atmosphere," Szymanski. "We talk about it a lot. It's part of us. It's conscious."

Sachs said West Hartford Community Theater has the two qualities that can lead to a successful show.

"They have resources, which is the first thing," Sachs said. "In order to fulfill your vision for the show, it helps to have as many resources as possible. Resources doesn't necessarily mean money. It means space, it means rehearsal time, it means bodies, it means tech. The other thing that I like, that I don't always find in community theater, is that they have a desire for excellence. It's really important that the people in the company want to do well."

The cast of Once Upon a Mattress covers a wide range of experience levels. The youngest actor is 10, and the oldest is in their 70s, Szymanski said. Combining talented youth with experienced adults is something they strive for when casting shows.

Jewel Hazlett, of Suffield, is one of the younger actors involved.

"Last year was my first year working with adults," Hazlett said. "It felt more professional. I really like that experience."

The experienced actors, like Matthew Nelson, a West Hartford resident who is in his fifth show with the group, said they return every year because of how supportive the group is. He considers the group a second family.

"I like coming back every year because everybody comes together, no matter what," Nelson said. "Everyone is very supportive of each other. In the five years I've been here, there hasn't been anybody who has been mean-spirited. It's very professional and a lot of fun to do."

Maggie Keane, of Canton, will be playing Lady Larken in the production. She joined the theater group last year after returning home from college.

"I was looking for something to do that was inspiring," Keane said. "I fell in love with the group last year. I'm glad a lot of people from last year have come back. My favorite thing is being surrounded by people who have so much knowledge in theater, music, and dance. I get to learn a lot. I wanted something that would challenge myself, but that's also fun."

Kim Whitaker, of West Hartford, is playing Queen Aggravain in the show. Her experience echoes the ones of her fellow castmates.

"The group is what's most important because it is community theater," Whitaker said. "This is my fourth show. This is a wonderfully nurturing space for all ages. The youngest kids come in and feel like they are part of it. The oldest actors come in and feel like they are part of it. We are doing this for the sheer love of it and that's a wonderful and energizing thing."

When Szymanski hears her director and actors speak that way, she's happy. They're looking toward celebrating the 10th anniversary in 2018.

"It's a very good feeling to know that," Szymanski said. "We've evolved a lot from the beginning. We've made a lot of changes and become more conscious. We want to keep it the highest level we can, but be so inclusive. I think we're doing a great job."

Once Upon a Mattress will debut on Nov. 11, at 7 p.m., with continued performances on Nov. 12 at 1:30 p.m., Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., and Nov. 19 at 1:30 p.m.

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