Ridgway arts

Otterbein University students in Westerville, Ohio perform the classic musical comedy “Once Upon a Mattress.” An even younger cast will star in a takeoff of the musical at the Old Firehouse in Ridgway next week. (Courtesy photo)

It will be a reimagined performance, in a reimagined space (because that’s what live theater is these days).

The catch is, this performance is not only acted and sung by kids — it has been completely reconceived by them.

Next week, a cast of nine young actors between the ages of 9-13 will appear for three nights in a new place, the courtyard of the Old Firehouse in Ridgway.

Their performance is under the auspices of Weehawken Arts, and the Sherbino Theater, nonprofits that have teamed up this season to present events in Covid-safe spaces that manage to capture a huge part of the appeal of Ridgway in summertime: because they are held out-of-doors, under the night sky.

Until recently, there was one new space: the Courtyard at 610, behind the Sherbino Theater, where live music and spoken performances have taken place.

Sometimes the performances have been a blend of both, and more. Last week, Ridgway poet Erika Moss Gordon, known for her work in Literary Burlesque, and Rob Miller of Paonia, a founding member of the band Sweet Sunny South, appeared together at the Courtyard in their “original music-and-lyric play” “Ford & Fitzroy.” 

The event was both well received and a bittersweet flashback of sorts to what has changed in the wake of Covid-19, and also to what local creatives are remaking, one evening at a time. 

Rob Miller is the founder of Pickin’ Productions, who programs the popular concerts in Town Park each July. Or at least he did, until this year. 

Programs Director Trisha Oakland was in attendance that evening. “Rob and Erika played on a Thursday evening, which would have been one of our free concert-in-the park nights,” Oakland said. In contrast to the hundreds of onlookers the park typically packs in, Gordon and Miller performed for an audience that consisted of about 35, seated at seven, appropriately-socially-distanced tables. 

It was an intimate performance under the big sky, “and very special,” Oakland said. “The show went on, not in the way we thought it would be, but we got to work with Rob on something really wonderful.”

Tonight through Saturday, a “Ladies Night Out” sketch-comedy event jocularly-titled “Ovary Acting” and starring local thespians Alexis Trachy and Brenda Ratcliff will be performed in the Courtyard. Next weekend, live theater migrates to the Old Firehouse, just down the street.

That’s where the kids come in. The young cast of Weehawken Royal Actors, directed by Kathleen O’Mara, will present their own “fantastic fairytale,” “Once Upon a Pea.”

If the title sounds familiar, it should: it’s a riff on the comedy musical “Once Upon a Mattress,” which is itself a takeoff on the classic fairytale “The Princess on the Pea.”

How the kids got chose it involved lots of narrowing down. “The theater workshop the kids signed up for didn’t even specify what they’d be working on,” Oakland said. “The kids began reading a lot of fairytales, and talking.” 

At one point, one of the adults asked, in effect, “Do we want a story that incorporates Covid?” 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “The kids leaned away from that idea,” Oakland said. “They’d had enough of that. They selected ‘The Princess and the Pea.’” 

The only problem was, they wanted a musical.

O’Hara offered a solution: she’d directed “Once Upon a Mattress,” and offered to scale it down to something, well, Pea-sized.

The kids took her up on it; rehearsals have been mostly outdoors to maintain local safety protocols (and because it’s fabulous outdoors) and when the weather is inclement, indoors with the young actors in masks. 

“We have really, really talented performers, and to see them step into these roles and blossom has been amazing,” Oakland said. “It’s so funny, the choices that we, as adults, might make” (such as the choice to perform something related to the coronavirus) “and what the kids chose. We empowered the kids, rather than the adults saying, ‘We think this embodies us.’” 

For three nights next week, we’ll get to see what these young thespians came up with.

For tickets to ‘Once Upon a Pea,’ visit sherbino.org