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Paly Theatre performs ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Photos by Juliana Sonneveld and Gregory Brail | Design by Valerie Chu

Under hanging rope ladders and around a series of wooden platforms built to resemble the deck of a ship, Paly Theatre concluded its spring play, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” on March 20. After three months of rehearsal and five show dates, cast and crew members described the play as a success.

“The premise is it’s kind of a prequel to Peter Pan,” senior Naomi Wagner said. “It tells the story of how Peter Pan arrives at Neverland Island and also how some other things in the Peter Pan universe came to be, like Captain Hook’s hand and things like that. It’s very silly, it’s quite comedic, it’s written by Rick Ellis.”

Wagner played the mermaid teacher, the mermaid soloist and a British narrator, and also served as the voice and dance captain for the show. They said they especially enjoyed being able to get into costume and work in-person with other actors to develop the characters. 

Senior Ameer Ali, who played Black Stache, the soon-to-be Captain Hook, said despite needing to adapt to using more gestures because the cast wore face masks, he enjoyed being able to get back on stage in-person, where he and the other actors could play off each other. 

“It’s been really fun to be back working with all the other actors and also the hair and makeup and costume people and the technicians and everything,” Ali said. “The feeling of community throughout the rehearsal process has been nice because we had a year away from that.”

Junior Katel Fong, a lighting designer and the house manager for the show, said the play required more lighting cues and designs compared to the fall play, “The Illusion.” 

“There’s magic, there’s flying,” Fong said. “There are things in there that would require a lot of creative unconventional designs, including lighting designs, whereas ‘The Illusion’ was pretty realistic — there was a garden inside a building, and there weren’t magic effects or anything.”

Fong said despite the challenges of transitioning from being the stage manager for “The Illusion” to being a lighting designer for this full, indoor show, she enjoyed seeing how her work combined with the different theater departments to reveal the storyline on stage. 

Junior Noah Boyarsky, a costume designer who also played the captain of the Neverland, said costumes were modified, borrowed from other schools, bought or created for the play. He said the costume creation process was a challenge for a play with a cast of over 40 people, but he had fun putting his own spin on Victorian England fashion. 

“The show itself — it’s very fantasy-like, kid-friendly, comedic, fun — so it was not like a strict, ‘You have to stick to this set of rules; everything has to be super historically accurate,’” Boyarsky said. “There were lots of opportunities to be super creative and to mess around and do what I wanted design-wise.” 

Director Sarah Thermond said the large scope of the play made it important to manage time carefully. Thermond said some of the obstacles Paly Theatre faced included navigating the filmic energy the playwright incorporated into the script, figuring out how to theatrically show what would be the equivalent of cuts in a movie, and adding music. She also said starting the play in January made it necessary to have understudies for various acting roles due to the Omicron surge at that time. 

“I really wanted to do things this year that had a lot of physicality and interaction to them because we did a whole year of very face-focused, Zoom-character-based things,” Thermond said. “I had ideas about this, and I knew there was some student interest in it. The students that I already knew from working with last year — a lot of them are really funny and really big; they are not afraid of making huge character choices. And when you know that you have many people who can bring that level of energy, that’s a good time to do a show that’s as big and in your face as this one is.”

Thermond also said Paly Theatre veered away from the original play by having more than one female-identifying actor in the cast, and the cast and crew discussed the potentially offensive, problematic portrayals of the indigenous people on the island found in other versions of Peter Pan. 

“There were lots of chances for us to talk as a design team, as a cast, about like, OK, how do we make this moment that could really land badly — how do we push back on that? How do we make the characterization of these people who live on this island such a ridiculous American stereotype that there’s not any possibility of offending any cultural tradition?’” Thermond said. “And I think the students here are really excited to think critically about those issues, and I hope that they are going to grow up to be the artists who are continuing to make headway and ask those questions at every production they’re involved in.”

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