Davis Theatre and Dance Department puts on “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Davis Theatre and Dance Department puts on “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Photo Credits: UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance / Courtesy. Katie Hall as Mollie and Nate Challis as The Boy in "Peter and the Starcatcher."

Peter Pan’s origin comes to life in Cooper, Sedgwick production

The UC Davis Theatre and Dance department will host their rendition of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a prequel to the well-known “Peter Pan.”

Although the production is put on by the Davis Theatre and Dance Department, cast members do not have to major in theatre and dance to take part in a production. 

“Our theaters on campus are our classrooms,” said Mindy Cooper, the co-director, a Broadway veteran and a professor of theatre and dance. “So the rehearsal process for this is a classroom. And I’m very proud of what we get on stage.” 

The pre-production and production of this show has taken over a year. The department began by spitballing ideas and tearing them up, seeing what worked best with the budget they had and brainstorming the best way to relate the plot of this award-winning play to regular students living their day-to-day lives. 

“It’s been interesting to bring them to life,” Cooper said. “They are words on paper. And when you first read the script, the voices come to life in your head and then they’re in your head and then you hire actors and then suddenly, they’re bringing flesh and blood to it. And so I’ve grown kind of in love with all of the characters and all the meshugas that happens.”

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The story takes place before we meet Peter Pan as a whimsical character, where he is simply known as Boy. He heads aboard a ship named Neverland and meets a witty young girl named Molly who promises to keep the “starstuff” hidden from the pirates they meet at sea. But her willingness to be good gets them into an immense amount of trouble and adventure.

“Peter and the Starcatcher hits home for me,” said Katie Halls, a fourth-year drama and English double major who portrays Molly, via email. “Because Peter Pan was always one of my favorite stories growing up. The thought of flying away and escaping my troubles was, and is, still appealing to me.” 

Nathaniel Challis, a fourth-year communications major who portrays Peter, said he can connect to his character now more than ever.

“I think it’s funny that I’m coming up at the end of my college career, maybe my educational career, and I’m playing this character that doesn’t want to grow up,” Challis said. “[Peter] just wants to be a kid, he just wants to be a boy for a while. And the older I’m getting, the closer I’m getting to entering the real non-educational world. I’m hanging on to these fleeting minutes [and] classes and enjoying every second of it. So it’s a cathartic experience getting to portray that on stage.”

As for Halls, she said she relates to her character’s quirks of being a child with a smart mouth and an odd sense of maturity. 

I always saw myself in Wendy, a character who is constantly torn with wanting to stay a child but also grow up,” Halls said, in reference to the Neverland character. “Molly is the same way. She’s smart, sophisticated, strong and seems to have a lot of things figured out for being only thirteen year old. But she is still a child, and I think Peter brings that out of her.”  

Challis said the magical element of the story is “only a fraction” of what the play is about. 

“Most of what it’s about is finding a home and finding a family and finding out who we are,” Challis said. “Whether it’s 13 or 22, we’re still looking for who we are. Most of us don’t have a clue yet. And this show is a beautiful portrayal of that. I don’t think it matters what walk of life you’re in because there’s always something in Peter Pan for anybody.”

Although the story has been told multiple times, Cooper and 2020 Granada Artist-in Residence Toby Sedgwick, the co-directors of the production, have created a new take for the Davis rendition of the story. The twist will feature projections and a live camera feed to move the story forward and do the writing justice. 

“What I really love about this script is that it’s kind of a homage to theater as a process,” said Samantha Reno, the scenic designer. “It’s magical, but it’s more about the physicality and the showing. You’re airing your laundry in many ways and pulling back the curtain on this show, in the way that we’re storytelling here. It’s nice to see the nuts and bolts visible instead of this invisible thing you would see in a very conventional [show].”

The tale of Peter Pan has been around since the early 1800s, when the little boy first appeared in a short novel written by J.M. Barrie. But his story has been written and rewritten time and time again. And this take on Peter is another addition to the character who is ingrained into the public’s thoughts. 

“I love the storytelling of it,” Cooper said. “The different ways that you can tell stories are important. Stories are as old as ancient cultures sitting around a fire grunting and telling what happened that day. It’s drawing hieroglyphics on the wall of a cave and telling the story of hunting that woolly mammoth, we need stories, and so I love the theatricality that you can tell a story with it.”

Cooper also said she believes that students may be able to relate to the story now more than ever.

“I think the world needs a lot of hope right now,” Cooper said. “And this is a show full of hope [and] believing [as] we are living in these incredibly strange times. I love coming to rehearsal and feeling uplifted.”

Tickets are currently on sale and can be bought through the UC Davis event website. Students can purchase tickets at the discounted price of $12 whereas faculty and staff pricing is $17.50 and general admission is $20. The show takes place at Wright Hall from late February to early March. 

Written by: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org