Davidson awakens 'Sleeping Beauty'

Rodney Saunders Jr. can relate a lot to his character as the Jester in "Sleeping Beauty."

Davidson Community Players' Connie Company and Davidson College Department of Theatre are performing the play Jan. 27-29. In it, the Jester acts as the narrator and helps cover some of the scene changes. He even has a puppet sidekick, "Monk."

Saunders is excited to play a role that shares many of his same personality traits.

"I can actually relate to him in many ways," Saunders said. "We both hold conversations with ourselves (and/or inanimate objects); we both want to be heard. And even if no one is listening, we never give up."

Saunders, of Wilmington, Del., is a junior at Davidson College. He is studying theater and has been performing on stage since high school. Since he has been at Davidson, Sanders has starred in "The Man Who Loved to Laugh," while volunteering at the Ada Jenkins Center and "The Little Foxes," produced by Davidson College.

Saunders' experience with "The Little Foxes" helped push him to audition for "Sleeping Beauty."

"I felt that acting adrenaline rush I hadn't felt since high school, which was my last time being in a school production," he said. "I wanted to keep that going. I acted on it."

Playing the Jester will be a challenge for Saunders.

"Despite my wittiness and sense of humor, playing the funny guy is never easy," he said. "On top of that, the challenge is doubled by playing the funny guy who, turns out, actually isn't funny to those around him, and trying to make that funny."

"Sleeping Beauty" has the storyline most people are familiar with. Princess Aurora, cursed as a baby by an angry fairy, falls into a 100-year sleep on her 16th birthday. But, with help from the Fairy Queen and a dashing prince, Princess Aurora may just live happily ever after.

However, the Davidson production will have some differences from the animated Disney version. It was adapted by Rupert Barber, who founded the Connie Company and established the Davidson College theater department. Melissa Ohlman-Roberge, artistic director for Davidson Community Players, is producing "Sleeping Beauty." She said Barber had a dry sense of humor and love of physical comedy.

"There are always characters in (his shows) who are in some way clumsy or in a hurry or something that is going to cause them to have a typical mishap, like falling or tripping," Ohlman-Roberge said. "In this particular one, he uses assistants to the king and queen. They aren't efficient in what they do and take a long time to do what they do. Some of the comic relief comes from there."

Also, the play does not use elaborate sets or costumes to entertain the audience.

"Rupert liked using simple conventions," Ohlman-Roberge said. "Like in this play, the way it's written, there is basically a table and chairs and he keeps changing the top of the tables. It's meant to be simple. Rupert wanted to put the emphasis on the actors."

"Sleeping Beauty" is a great experience for people of all ages, especially children, Ohlman-Roberge said.

"I think it's really important that kids enjoy the arts," she said. "I believe it makes them stronger children, more worldly children and children who are able to look at different points of view."

Plus, children get the best seats in the house.

"We invite kids to come down and sit (near) the stage so they can be drawn right into the action, and this play is no exception," Ohlman-Roberge said.