Weakley Playhouse

County Schools' Theater Group Flies Audiences to Neverland
Posted on 11/07/2021
This is the image for the news article titled County Schools' Theater Group Flies Audiences to NeverlandThe story of Peter Pan has always asked readers to engage their imaginations and the Weakley Playhouse production of Jeremy Bloom’s update on the familiar tale takes that request to new heights. Under the direction of Martin Kane, actors become ships, rocks, and means for flight and, like a typical game among children, a stolen cap means roles have been reversed. The result is a captivating experience in the suspension of disbelief that leaves audiences delighted to have spent an hour with the likes of Peter, Wendy, Tink, Hook, Smee and more.

Peter/Wendy opened on November 4 at Westview’s Theater in Martin. Performances are scheduled for November 6, 11 and 13 with a special presentation planned for county fourth graders on Friday morning, February 12.

Weakley Playhouse continues to draw on talents from across the county with 15 actors and 12 crew members who have worked to create the world originally imagined by J.M. Barrie. Each actor will perform at least three times, noted Kane of the choice to double up on roles rather than rely on understudies.

Kane said he was intrigued with the adaptation because it leans into his directorial tendencies.

“It’s slightly abstract, allowing the director a blank slate with very little stage direction provided or set requirements,” he said.

That freedom allowed for experimentation such as having almost all the set pieces other than the bed, dresser and rocker depicting the Darlings’ home to be created by the players on stage. Hook’s ship is formed as non-speaking actors hold hands and lean into the imaginary wind. With a bit of cloth, a player becomes a rock. Bowed and crawling, actors serve as the seats of a rowboat. And, perhaps most surprising, actors lift their fellow thespians and become the means for flight of Peter Pan and, eventually, Wendy.

To further include the audience, Kane offers the chance to play along with the children and keep up with who is playing who, using the program as a “cheat sheet” with a list of which costume element depicts which character. Peter Pan’s green hat could fall on any head, for example. And Tink is whoever happens to be wearing the wings, carrying a flashlight, and tinkling bells.

Kane and fourth grade teachers from across the county hope the chance to “make believe” along with the cast will serve as a draw to the students who may be experiencing their first introduction to theater when the play is presented on Friday morning at Westview’s Theater.

Kane said it worked out very nicely from a timing point of view that fourth graders have recently read excerpts from the Peter Pan story. When approached by April Fishel, District RTI Coordinator, about a possible special performance, he readily agreed.

“It seemed like an opportunity to provide some outreach, to give the fourth graders some exposure to theater along the lines of what they are already doing in the classroom,” he said.

Fishel explains the request came after elementary school students in Weakley County Schools dove into a new reading curriculum last year. Benchmark Advance is a ten-unit program that builds upon the same general topics across the grade bands. For example, all students learn about characters and character traits in one unit of study. When she discovered that Weakley Playhouse would be performing the play based on the same stories fourth graders were reading, she said it made sense for the students to see the drama enacted on the stage.

“My hope is that the story will come to life, students will increase their understanding of the elements of a drama, and students will leave the theater more interested in the possibilities provided by the arts programs in our schools,” she said.

While the performance for the young audience, made possible with the assistance of the Weakley County Transportation Department providing the busing, is free, the nightly performances are $5 for adults and $2 for students. Tickets are available online at weakleyplays.ludus.com or at the door.

The Peter/Wendy cast includes Abbey Buchanan, Taylor Longacre, Zoe Hogan, Samantha Hurt, Bryson Boyd, Gyphon Rowland, Abby Collie, Hayden Swaim, Lydia Thorsen, Lucy Oelrich, Kyeler Penick, Atlantis Taylor, Emily Kelley, and Drew Callahan.

The crew is made up of Stage Manager - Gloria Hogan; Tech - Gabrielle Price and Zanda Tipton; Props - Grey Claiborne, Kayleigh Hilt, Betsy Mantooth, Matthew Moon, and Nathan Reese; Art - Zoe Hogan and Zanda Tipton; Costumes and makeup - Hannah Harrell and Nathan Reese; Construction - Jeremiah Britt, Bryson Boyd, Abbey Buchanan, Sam Sutero, and Samantha Hurt.

Kane expressed appreciation to the sponsors: Marvin Downing, Mark Swaim, Randy and Terry Frazier, Lynn Gibson, Luxury Nails, Martin and Margaret Kane, Charles Anderson, Greenfield Nutrition, Weakley County Motors, DBR Beachfront, Color Shop Restoration, First Community Bank of the Heartland, Greenfield Banking Company, WoodmenLife, Fuller Partners Real Estate, Jordan Plumbing Company, Donaldson Brothers Rentals, Martin’s Coffee and Bakery, John Deere, Colorworks Salon, Tennessee Tractor, and NAPA Auto Parts.

Following the run of Peter/Wendy, the Weakley Playhouse will turn their attention to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Auditions will be held in December and will be open to all high schoolers in the county. The love story will take the stage in the spring.

Cast and crew

The cast and crew of Peter/Wendy: (left to right) Kathryn Choate Eddings, Garret Morgan, Matthew Moon, Hannah Harrell, Liz Ostenson, Gryphon Rowland, Grey Claiborne, Hayden Swaim, Drew Callahan, Abby Collie, Lucy Oelrich, Kyeler Penick, Jeremiah Britt, Bryson Boyd, Lydia Thorsen, Kayleigh Hilt, Nathan Reese, Atlantis Taylor, Samantha Hurt, Zoe Hogan, Abbey Buchanan, Emily Kelley, Gabby Price, Taylor Longacre, and Betsy Mantooth. Not pictured: Gloria Hogan and Zanda Tipton.