Standing at the crossroad to Neverland

6:57 PM
By Mithra Ballesteros, First Stage Children's Theater

Photo of Todd Denning by Mithra Ballesteros

My desk is near the entrance to our offices, which makes it easy for me to catch droplets of news from all sorts of passers-by.  This week, the talk was all about our season opener, PETER PAN AND WENDY.

Director Jeff Frank is pumped about the flight scenes.  I'll back up by explaining that the ceiling of the Todd Wehr does not accommodate wires on which Peter could glide.  Instead, Frank has incorporated "Japanese Bunraku" to create the illusion of flight.  Check out this example on YouTube.  It's pretty ingenious.

But the tricky part, says Frank, is getting into the convention gracefully.  Puppeteers cannot just saunter upstage and hoist Peter.  So the blocking involves taking each movement, and breaking it down.  The simplest stage direction can take 30 minutes to choreograph.


Photo by Mithra Ballesteros
Another interesting element of this production is the balcony of the set.  Scenic designer Sarah Hunt-Frank envisioned a sloping platform framed by an organic and intricate railing that would evoke both the elegance of London and the whimsy of Neverland.  Production Manager Jared Clarkin described the final product: "This balcony is secure and very safe. It's made of 1/8" flat stock steel, which Technical Director John Hemingway bent into these swirly organic shapes.  The railing is built on a steel frame and then bolted to the platform."  Even as an actor moves down the slope of the balcony, he or she will be able to see the railing using peripheral vision.  It's a solid piece of construction and a beautiful design.

Desi Rosas, Company Manager, shares a moment with me that made her laugh during rehearsals.  At one point, Peter displays some over-the-top machismo, and Wendy rolls her eyes, sighs, and takes refuge under her covers.  According to Desi, Wendy gets 'it'.  Wendy knows that for all her strengths, she inhabits a world ruled by men where she may not have much clout.  Even silly boys can be exasperating.  Sometimes, crawling back into bed is the only answer, says Desi.  Amen sister!

Todd Denning, aka Captain Hook, sauntered in to show off his new hook.  It's impressively heavy, and Todd will wear a sort of leather harness to keep it from flying across the stage and putting out Smee's eye.  Unlike many hooks we've seen in pop culture, this particular prosthetic actually looks pirate-made -- it's very jagged and the arc is more squared off.  Todd enjoyed whacking it with a piece of metal to demonstrate its clarion sound.  He has a glint in his eye that matches the glint of the hook.

This morning, Nancy Clarkin, who is new to the development team, talked about the "Wish Upon a Star" campaign that is coming soon to the Todd Wehr Lobby.  Throughout the run of PETER PAN AND WENDY, parents may purchase silver stars to hang in the lobby.  These stars will be customized with their child's photo on one side and their child's wish on the other side.  Proceeds from the "Wish Upon a Star" campaign will go towards Family Time at First Stage.  Kids are going to love this, especially the part where House Manager Michael Warren makes all of their wishes come true.  (As long as their fondest wish is to see PETER PAN AND WENDY!)

PETER PAN AND WENDY runs from October 15 - November 14 in the Todd Wehr Theater.  Tickets begin at $11.50.  

The Family Time Fund at First Stage subsidizes each production in order to keep ticket prices affordable for families and school groups.  First Stage is a non-profit organization and ticket revenue covers only 50% of the actual cost of producing a play.  To donate to the Family Time fund, please click here.

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