09 May 2012

You Can Fly, You Can Fly

A few weeks ago I went to go watch a family friend in San Diego Junior Theater's Peter Pan. She's still in high school but does "professional music theater," which means she's balancing academics, practices and performances, along with the usual growing up stuff like hanging out with friends and having fun. I asked her what her daily schedule was like and then I promptly fainted from exhaustion just hearing about it.

Disney is producing this pilot production of Peter Pan and when it's finished, they'll be selling it to other theaters and schools around the country to use. I had no idea that this was as thing, as I figured that high school musicals just, well, happened. I'd love to know what they charge for this kind of thing. No wonder everyone does the same few plays over and over.

San Diego's Junior Theater is like an all star cast of under-eighteen talent. Even though I was expecting some good performances -- my friend herself is an amazing singer -- I didn't realize that this production would be so professional. I mean, the sets and costumes were so serious. When they pulled out Captain Hook's boat, the crowd practically gave it a standing ovation because it was so impressive looking.

The script was really clever too. They did a nice job of having lots of "wink wink" moments for the audience; sidestepping the possibly racist portrayal of the Native American characters; and turned Peter Pan into more of a naughty nuisance -- who was slightly chauvinistic -- which gave Wendy and Tinkerbell room to shine. The script even had some hilarious throwaway references to Shakespeare and Sondheim.

I couldn't get over the fact that some of these kids were like eight years old. How do they get them to dance together? How are they all hitting their marks? I've seen/suffered through some performances from kids and it pretty much amounts to little blobs of energy bouncing around on a stage while everyone oohs and awws. This was no such thing. These "kids" were extremely talented and the show was so excellent. Next month I'm returning for their production of Footloose!

Oh if only I could act, sing, or dance, my life could have been so different. The height of my theater experience was playing Woodstock in a Christian Youth Theater production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." I had basically just moved to America. It was a non-speaking part. The next season I got two minor roles in Pinocchio -- street sweeper and donkey boy -- with again, no speaking roles. But oh how proud I was of having two parts. Near the end of the play I'd have to rush backstage to get into the street sweeper costume, so George and I could match for the rousing finale.

What I enjoyed most about the experience was the after parties of the cast. Ice cream, energy, everyone happy from having accomplished something together. Oh teamwork, it gets me every time!

And if you're looking for some YA books about performers and theaters, may I recommend Lisa Mantchev's Theatre Illuminata series (Eyes Like Stars, Perchance to Dream, the soon to be released So Silver Bright) and Lauren Bjorkman's super hilarious My Invented Life? You'll love'em, promise.