Week three of production and director's daring choice continues to yield powerful responses.

2:02 PM

By Mithra Ballesteros, First Stage Children's Theater


Lawrence Hapeman as Michael, being lifted by Ron Lee; Paris Karstedt as Wendy, Jordan Horne as Peter Pan, and Balen Essak as John photographed by Mark Frohna.

In the scene where Mrs. Darling decides to adopt the gang of Lost Boys, Mr. Darling exclaims, “You certainly don’t do anything by halves, Mother!”  This line might well have been said by First Stage Managing Director Rob Goodman to his ambitious Artistic Director, Jeff Frank, when Frank first proposed staging PETER PAN AND WENDY using ‘kokens’ for movement and flight.

Goodman laughs when he remembers his first reaction to Jeff’s concept: “My heart dropped. Even after 35 years in theater, all the old fears came back. I thought, ‘What if this fails?’ It's an outrageous artistic choice.”

After all, is there a more nomadic hero than Peter Pan? His flights take him from London to the upper atmosphere of the night sky to Neverland and back again. He alights on pirate ships, on rocky shores, on nursery windowsills. How does a director evoke his journey without pulleys on a stage that is 30 feet by 30 feet? 

By sheer grit, that’s how. A cast of fourteen kokens who have been called the ‘real scene stealers’ in this show soundlessly crouch, lift, slink and slide all over the tiny stage of the Todd Wehr Theater.

They do it twelve times a week, sometimes three times a day, fully masked and clothed in black, resembling silent ninjas. They are the human equivalent of flight rigs and cranes that many theaters rent for their productions of Peter Pan. They move props and operate puppets too.


Katie Shelledy as Wendy being lifted by Tim Linn.  Kite operated by Joey Wurm. Sam Skogstad as Peter.  Photographed by Mark Frohna.

Said Production Manager Jared Clarkin, “There is very little room for error. If an actor forgets to turn left, he will run into something. The flight and fight sequences are a dance. Everyone must hit their mark every single time.”

Stage Manager Michele Hand agrees. “Behind the scenes, no one stops moving from the beginning to the end. On and off stage, the traffic patterns are complicated.  Tim Linn, Ron Lee, and James Fletcher do the bulk of heavy lifting. Their warm-up before each show is really critical.  Everyone works very hard.”

Jeff Frank admits that his approach was risky and that he didn’t have a back-up plan. But he didn't need one.  He knew that with enough preparation and with the strength of First Stage's production department behind him, the technique would suceed.

Indeed, it has.  Critics raved. Children gasp.  Parents get teary. And Rob Goodman crows his delight. “It is a magical sight! These kokens transport us all to Neverland with total ease, using only the power of theater.  It's magnificent!”

Jeff Frank smiles and shrugs. He’s on to the next challenge: how to grow Pinocchio’s nose.


Paris Karstedt as Wendy, lifted by Ron Lee; Jordan Horne as Peter Pan,lifted by James Fletcher; Lawrence Hapeman as Michael, lifted by Luke Mizer and Corwin Weeks.  Photographed by Mark Frohna.

The adult kokens are played by James Fletcher, Tim Linn, and Ron Lee.  Young Performer kokens include Michelle Desien, Holland White, Emilie Lozier, Emma Bronson, Eliza Lore, Mitch Bultman, Matt Steege, Joey Wurm, Arianna Imperl, Ashley Patin, Maura Atwood, Gena Davis, Piper Meisinger, Luke Mizer, Corwin Weeks, Sebastian Palmer, and Emmie Mandel.

PETER PAN AND WENDY runs through November 14 at the Todd Wehr Theater.  Tickets begin at $11.50.

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