Staging ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ at Imagination Stage is a big production

June 20, 2013

Imagination Stage’s musical Peter Pan and Wendy” will have its “opening night” Wednesday, meaning it’s the first time you can see the show. Wendy, Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys will get in and out of trouble as they journey through Neverland. They will sing, dance and even trick your eyes into believing that they’re flying. Lights, sets, costumes and six actors will help guide you as you fall under the magical spell of theater.

Less than three weeks ago, the stage and the whole show looked a lot different. There were no lights, no sets, no costumes and no audience. There was just a bare stage and a script.

Learning where to move

“So I’ll end up where?” asked Michael John Casey, who plays Smee, Captain Hook’s sidekick, during a rehearsal. He was wearing a green Boston Celtics cap, he had a pencil stuck behind his ear and he was carrying around his script (the words that the actors speak), jotting down notes here and there.

All the “Peter Pan and Wendy” actors had gotten the scripts and a recording of the music before rehearsals began. The first rehearsal was a “read-through,” and the actors sat at a table with their scripts, read their parts and talked about the characters and the story.

For this rehearsal, they had moved into the black box theater. (A black box theater is a simple space with black walls.)

“I’d rather have you end up here,” replied Kathryn Chase Bryer, the director of the show, pointing to a spot. Without scenery and furniture on the stage, the actors relied on pink, purple and yellow tape on the floor to tell them where the sets would be.

They were working on blocking, which is deciding exactly where all the actors should be while they’re onstage.

“Wendy and the boys, you’re coming from stage right, up the staircase and cross the rock,” Bryer said. “Stage right” means the side of the stage that’s to the right of an actor who is facing the audience.

The feeling at the rehearsal bounced back and forth between serious focus and lighthearted joking as the actors got into character and then broke from their characters to listen to Bryer and share a quick joke.

The cast, or the people in the show, spent all morning on a scene that would take only three minutes to perform.

The work of an actor

“It’s definitely hard work, but every rehearsal I’ve been in, it’s always fun,” said Jonathan Atkinson, 29, who plays Peter Pan. (He remembers his first performance, a puppet show he put on for guests when he was 4 years old.)

Atkinson said his favorite part of rehearsals is “getting to know new people . . . and getting to know a brand-new character. That’s really exciting.” Atkinson has performed in about 40 musicals and plays — and auditioned for many more — but he still gets nervous every time he steps onstage.

“That’s just the way I am,” he said. “If I didn’t feel that way, I’d think something was wrong.”

Lights!

Putting on a performance involves a lot more people than just the actors. More than 20 people started working on this “Peter Pan” production months ago. Set designers worked closely with Bryer to figure out what to build. They sketched ideas and then started building the scenery. Just days before the show, they “loaded in” the sets. (That means they brought them onto the stage.)

A costume designer made the costumes, and a lighting designer figured out how to light the stage. A choreographer taught the actors the dance numbers, and a musical director helped them learn the music.

During “tech week,” which is made up of long work days right before the show opens, all the elements of the show come together.

“It’s a little magical that way,” Bradley Cooper said. He’s the production manager, the guy who makes sure all the behind-the-scenes work runs smoothly. “It always seems to find a way to come together in the end.”

As soon as the show is over, the tech crew will “strike the set,” or take it down, so that work on the next show can begin.

Putting it all together

Bryer started working on “Peter Pan and Wendy” more than six months ago. She began reading and researching the play, thinking about what she wanted the overall message of the show to be. She calls herself an editor, thinking and talking about ideas and then deciding what the best ones are.

Bryer said that once the show opens, her job is done. She said she often feels sad because, after spending so much time with the actors and crew and with the story, she must walk away. That sounds a little like Wendy, who leaves Neverland at the end of the show and says, “Goodbye, nursery. Goodbye, Peter.”

Moira E. McLaughlin

GO SEE THE PLAY

What: “Peter Pan and Wendy”

When: Wednesday-August 11. Tuesday-Friday at 10:30 a.m., Saturday-Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.; additional shows July 6, 20 and 27 at 11 a.m. and July 12 at 7 p.m.

Where: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda.

How much: $12-$25.

Ages: Best for ages 4 to 10.

More information: Your parents can visit www.imaginationstage.org or call 301-280-1660.

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