Washougal High School (WHS) theater students sometimes approach theater teacher Kelly Gregersen with a play they’d like to perform, but this fall Gregersen switched things up a bit.
That’s because the teacher had already set his mind on “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play Gregersen thought would present a great opportunity for students to create a memorable production.
“I started seeing this play on lots of the ‘most produced high school shows’ lists, and I realized that there was something special with the script,” Gregersen said. “I came to this story early, as years ago a friend gave me the young adult novel that the play is based on. As I read through the script, I realized that it’s a fun meld of a whole bunch of theater styles — movement pieces, dance, storytelling, lots of acting and singing. It’s a giant blender of performance styles that are fun to do. We have a cast of 35, and everybody gets lines and is an integral part of the show.”
The WHS players will present “Peter and the Starcatcher” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9 and Nov. 15-16, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Washburn Performing Arts Center, located at Washougal High School, 1201 39th St., Washougal. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” is a prequel to “Peter Pan,” the world-renowned play and novel by J.M. Barrie, and based on the 2004 novel “Peter and the Starcatchers” by humor writer Dave Barry and suspense novelist Ridley Pearson.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” adapted for the stage by Rick Elice, provides origin stories for several well-known characters such as Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling, Tinker Bell and Hook.
After a premiere in California, the play transferred to off-Broadway in 2011, and opened on Broadway on April 15, 2012. The show ended its Broadway run on Jan. 20, 2013, reopened off-Broadway in March 2013 and ended its off-Broadway run in January 2014.
“The kids really got into the idea of the pre-Peter Pan mythology,” Gregersen said. “We did some background work on J.M. Barrie, and the cast watched the Disney movie together. The play has its own feeling and idea on the ‘Peter Pan’ story, but a lot of the ‘Peter Pan’ pieces fall into place by the end, and it was fun watching the kids’ reactions when they read the script for the first time. They were tearing up when they realized what certain things would mean for Peter Pan (later on).”
In a 2011 review for the New York Times, Ben Barntley wrote that “Peter and the Starcatcher” is “a performance that you might classify as over the top, but only in the sense that the entire production is. … With grown-up theatrical savvy and a child’s wonder at what it can achieve, ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ floats right through the ceiling of the physical limits imposed by a three-dimensional stage.”
Music Theater International’s website states the play “uses ingenious stagecraft and the limitless possibilities of imagination to bring the story to life. … From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ playfully explores the depths of greed and despair … and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.”
Gregersen agreed, calling the production “nontraditional.”
“It’s a show based on storytelling,” he said. “Actors are changing characters and set pieces are moving around all the time. It’s really a show about imagination. People are forming walls with their bodies. Puppets are involved. Model ships sail in and out. There are mermaids and pirates. It’s based on people connecting with audience members and telling them a story. It’s a basic, but powerful, performance piece, and because of that the students are really invested because they created a lot of it.”
The nature of the production has presented the students with some challenges, which they’ve been able to overcome.
“The biggest thing is the storytelling structure is hard to work with for a kid who’s used to acting with a partner on stage. They’re turning around and talking to an audience, so they’re working on their ability to connect and story-tell,” Gregersen said. “That’s taken some of them out of their comfort zone, but the more they do it, the better they’re getting. Because of the nontraditional staging, they’re moving in ways that aren’t naturalistic. To say to someone, ‘You’re a door’ or ‘You’re a wall’ is a little different. But they’re jumping in, and they’re enthusiastic and ready to take on any challenge.”