2012-10-18 / News

Community theater is many times a family affair

Parents and children alike make productions possible

Josie Wagner, 8, is a second-grader at Melrose Avenue School who will play the queen’s attendant in the Jamestown Community Theatre’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” 
PHOTO COURTESY OF STEPHANIE HEELAN COTSONAS Josie Wagner, 8, is a second-grader at Melrose Avenue School who will play the queen’s attendant in the Jamestown Community Theatre’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” PHOTO COURTESY OF STEPHANIE HEELAN COTSONAS Parents of small children expect the usual requests. Driving the car pool, snacks for the soccer game and volunteering in the classroom are typical duties. It is not unusual for parents of those children performing in the Jamestown Comm unity Theatre to be asked to do things a little less typical – like designing a set, for example.

The family involvement required to put on the theater’s fall production “Once Upon a Mattress” is palpable. On Sunday afternoon, Alejandra Billington was found backstage wearing a builder’s suit. She was using a blowtorch to make a faux stonework finish on the arches for the backdrop she designed. Although it is a relatively simple set, this is a new endeavor for Billington. “I and not used to designing and implementing movable pieces.” she said.

As a professional architect, Billington designs more permanent structures. She spent two weeks drawing and designing the set, and now building is underway with Steve Farrelly and Bob Gibbs, the heads of construction who have already spent countless hours on the stage hammering away.

Billington’s family is living on the island until February 2013 and her husband is an F-18 pilot in the Navy. Their 11-year-old daughter, Elena, is a newcomer to the theater. She is a member of the children’s ensemble that will sing and juggle on stage.

The show’s producers have tapped into the talent of more than 20 children who make up the cast and ensemble, as well as their parents. The publicity team is led by veteran Laura Rossi Totten. Julia, her daughter, is in the ensemble and will also be found jumping rope on stage. The publicity team also includes Iris Bohensky, who is leading the social media charge with a focus on Twitter, Facebook and the theatre’s website. Cynthia Blair has designed the poster that can be seen around town and in other promotions.

Ellen Sanchez and Nicole Fortenberry have been pounding the pavement soliciting ads for the program. They have been critical to sales, sponsorship and program production. Their daughters, Reagan Sanchez and Colette Fortenberry, are part of the children’s ensemble.

Susan Baccari has handled all aspects of ticket design and printing, as daughter Isabella Varrechione practices her role as a princess dancer. Michelle Wagner is in charge of props and has been combing the local yard sales, while daughter and first-time performer Josie Wagner will play the queen’s attendant. Stage manager Nellie Tamboe and her younger sister Ani join their mother Nora Santamour who is already working on designing the lobby along with Kerri McIntosh.

In the weeks leading up to the show, sometimes the whole family can be found at the rec center at Sunday afternoon rehearsals. Michelle Gibbs is the young actor supervisor and is always counting heads and handling calls for parent pickups. Daughter Alyssa Gibbs will play Emily in addition to jumping on her pogo stick, while father Bob Gibbs helps with set construction.

The Toland family is represented by co-producer Kellie, as well as Natalie, who will play Princess Winnifred. Also on stage for the Toland family with be sisters Lauren and Bridgette, who will be part of the children’s ensemble as gymnasts. Their grandmother, Maureen Cunnigham, is the costume coordinator and can be found at rehearsals taking measurements and pinning costumes.

Oftentimes in JCT productions it becomes a family affair. If a parent is not working behind the scenes, they may be found behind the lights or a sewing machine or in many cases on the stage.

In last season’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” islander Valerie Tarantino played a sweet Auntie Em but returns with a new attitude in “Once Upon a Mattress.”

“As the queen, she is coming back in a big way and she is a force to be reckoned with,” said director Julie Andrews.

Tarantino’s real-life son, Witt, will also play her on-stage son, Prince Dauntless. He put on a stellar performance as a guard in “Oz.”

Retired Marine Col. David Fuquea will play his first role in a theater production as Sir Harry, while daughter Farren Fuquea will play the nightingale as well as Beatrice. Susan Fuquea is in charge of refreshments and has already been soliciting parents to make Rice Krispie treats and all the other goodies that will be sold during intermission of the six shows.

This nontraditional fairy tale is also full of siblings. Julia Bush plays the court guard, while her sister Allison is a ribbon twirler in the children’s ensemble. Jeff, their father, is working on set construction. Emma and Julia Cotsonas are in their second theater production. They will dance and twirl ribbons as part of the children’s ensemble. Sophia and Jessica Long are making their debut in the JCT while their parents David and Dana Long work on publicity.

“Once Upon a Mattress” will take place on the second and third weekends in November. All shows will be held at the recreation center. Tickets are now on sale at Baker’s Pharmacy, Cathryn Jamieson Salon, Conanicut Marine Ship’s Store & Chandlery and the Secret Garden. Cost is $13 for general admission, $8 for seniors and children. Prices will increase by $3 if purchased at the door.

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