In Experiential Learning, Students, Theatre

The theatre department is currently working to reschedule the production — which was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns — for the Fall 2020 semester

On March 12, life in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts was turned upside down as rehearsals ground to a halt, performances were cancelled and students were instructed to return home due to COVID-19 concerns — all just a week before mainstage production “Wendy & Peter Pan” was set to open.

Benjamin Raymant as Peter Pan and Dakota Clement as Wendy. (Madeline Mortensen/BYU Photo)

Despite their disappointment after months of preparation, members of the cast and technical crew of playwright Ella Hickson’s retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic look back on the rehearsal process as a formative experience and highlight of their BYU education, audience or no audience.

“I was really excited to be one of the ones creating the magic, since Neverland is such a vivid location for so many people,” said student set designer Elisabeth Goulding. “The challenge of bringing a beloved story to stage is always one of managing expectations. You’ve got to find a balance between creating a distinct Neverland that’s unique to the needs of this production but still has a spark of the familiar Neverland that we already know and love. I wanted to help capture the same sense of wonder and excitement that I remember feeling when reading about Wendy and Peter’s adventures.”

Goulding was struck by the cohesion and creativity of the show’s design crew as they took on the difficult task of translating Neverland to the small, simple stage of the black box Margetts Theatre and the ways in which each component of the production came together under the vision of director Kris Jennings Peterson

“By far my favorite part of working on ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’ was the collaboration between design areas that I got to be a part of,” she said. “You design the show, and then it all gets to be populated with beautiful, detailed costumes that work in tandem with what the actors have done with their character in their body language, movements and voice. In professional theatre, the name of the game is always collaboration — this was a great opportunity for me to practice working with lots of different personalities to shape a creation together.”

For theatre education major Skyler Denfeld, who played Slightly, one of the most impactful parts of working on “Wendy & Peter Pan” was watching director Peterson unite the cast in common goals for what they needed to convey in their performance and develop as actors.

Benjamin Raymant (Peter), Sariah Lyles (Tiger Lily), Sten Shearer (Captain Hook) and Dakota Clement (Wendy). (Madeline Mortensen/BYU Photo)

“I learned a lot from Kris and her method of loving the people that she works with,” said Denfeld. “She is one of the most powerful, empathetic and kind directors that I’ve worked with, and she’s really good at creating a space that’s safe for us to be creative. Through her teaching and directing, she pushed us to create a work of art, and she wanted us all to be there for each other throughout that process. Our cast became a family — there’s a significant connection that comes from being able to tell a story together, especially at this level of beauty and importance. There’s a lot about motherhood in the play, and I think we as a cast saw a lot of correlations between Kris and Wendy.”

In turn, Peterson was struck by the energy of the cast and their willingness to dive into the world of the text.

“We wanted to capture that sense of childhood and returning to a place where imagination was really thriving,” said Peterson. “That’s something we tried to create right from the beginning of rehearsals. The cast embraced this idea of exploring what it meant to be in Neverland and how it feels to fly and play. Movement was crucial in helping us understand the style of the show that we were telling.”

As the theatre department bands together remotely in this time of uncertainty — and works to reschedule “Wendy & Peter Pan” for the Fall 2020 semester — the messages of the play feel all the more relevant and needed.

“Kris asked us to really think about the play’s exploration of light and dark,” said Denfeld. “We talked a lot about the light in our lives and the shadows that we all have, and how we deal with the contrast that the light and the dark create. We also talked about learning to fight the shadows and accept the light.” 

For Peterson, the brightest lights throughout the rehearsal process were the students themselves as they gave the show their all.

“The students really threw themselves into this project,” said Peterson. “You’ll notice elements of light and shadow in some of the design elements as well as the movements of the actors on stage, but what the students really brought to the show was their own light. They brought the light of their creativity, the light of their skills and the light of who they are as people and their love of doing this art. I think that’s really phenomenal.” 

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