I just returned from seeing a production of Peter Pan, Jr. at the secondary school where I used to teach. This was not “a middle school show” or “a high school show,” it was simply a wonderful production. The cast were entirely middle school students, and most of the crew were high school students, but except for the two directors playing the Darling parents in the bookend scenes, this show seemed built for children to bring all of their exuberance to the story. And indeed they did. It was energetic, very clear, focused, and just delightfully entertaining.
It was a fully immersive experience, too. With strong leads, and a cast of 65 surrounding the audience in the house at times to sing, and sophisticated lighting effects and projections…and fog..and bubbles.., and plenty of body mics, nothing was missed or missing. Transitions were instantaneous and clever, costumes were surprisingly modern (Wendy began the show talking on her cell phone in the midst of the audience, then wandered into her bedroom on stage still chattering away, and Peter’s “flying” happened on a hoverboard amidst fog), including some step dancing, wildly colorful Indians. There was total commitment and focus from every actor at every moment, including the presence of mind to adjust to minor mishaps, such as a hinge failing to secure one moving platform to another. Those rare moments never detracted from the storytelling.
I want to make all the 25 middle school theatre teachers in this large county school system see this production. I know many of them also do excellent work, but I know some of them really don’t know just how high the bar can be successfully set, and they need to know. What a clear example of showing how kids can rise to whatever expectations are set before them, especially when it’s matched by a loving, disciplined, creative leader. By the way, they have filled their 650 seat theatre full for 9 performances. Nine! (not a bad way to bring in cash for more toys next year, eh?!)
So, here’s to celebrating and thanking the hard-working theatre directors out there who bring out the best in the students with whom they work, teaching them community, commitment, creativity and so much more, and providing the larger community far beyond supportive friends and family some entertainment of quality, to lift the spirits and feed the soul.
If you’re curious about this school, check out http://robinsondrama.org.