Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beginnings Found in the Endings

The cast of South Coast Repertory's Peter and the Starcatcher.
“It’s the kind of piece where the director’s imprint on the original production is such an integral part of the text, so I wondered what could I possible bring to this to make it as fresh as possible?”

Director Art Manke is talking about his decision to take on Peter and the Starcatcher, South Coast Repertory’s season finale Segerstrom Stage, through June 7. 

The play—a fun prequel to the story of Peter Pan—brought a creative challenge for Manke. The show had highly successful off- and on-Broadway productions, which spawned two national tours. But the more Manke thought about it, the more the creative challenge of directing the production grabbed him.

Kasey Mahaffy and Matt McGrath in Peter and the Starcatcher.
The story follows the orphan known as Boy who would become Peter Pan. But the story is told of Peter’s life before his adventures with the Darling children. It’s a show that appeals to children and adults and a tale fit for many generations to enjoy together.

“Like any great story there are universal truths and observations about humanity that can be received by both children and adults,” Manke says. “Just as with The Wizard of Oz or Into the Woods there is material that resonates with adults and makes children delightful with glee.”

So, with this all in mind, how does he bring a fresh take to this recent high-flying hit? Especially with audiences that may have seen it recently?

The answer: Aaron Posner and Teller’s The Tempest, which opened SCR’s current season. As Manke and Peter and the Starcatcher scenic designer Michael B. Raiford stepped onto the nearly empty Segerstrom Stage after The Tempest closed, an idea sparked.

“The entire stage was virtually bare, going all the way to the brick walls. There were only a few lights, a couple pieces of scaffolding, a hamper, a clothing rack—things left over from striking The Tempest set. I thought, well that’s the way we should do this,” he recalls.

And so the end of one show was the beginning for another. While looking more at the story, Manke was taken by its universal appeal. He also noticed that his cast could give the tale a sense a broader appeal, so he determined to seek out a more diverse and multi-cultural cast to enhance the universality of the story.

“It’s really important for young people to see reflections of themselves on stage, particularly in plays that are serving the needs of family. It empowers young people to know they can define a path toward their future, no matter whom or where they are,” Manke says.

And with that, Manke laid the foundation for his approach: a fresh visual take on the production that celebrates imagination and the magic of theatre. As well as a mix of 14 actors and musicians—some returning to SCR and many making their SCR debuts—who brought varying cultures and experience.

But that’s only half the battle. Peter and the Starcatcher is highly ensemble-driven, with cast members juggling multiple roles and, at times, physically creating different locations; Manke knew it was vital to jump-start their sense of being a close group. As they began rehearsals, they incorporated daily ensemble exercises to strengthen their trust and familiarity with each other.

That has been one of Manke’s favorite parts of working on this production: helping to build a sense of camaraderie and collaboration among the artists.

“The most joyful part of the experience has been watching the actors come together as an ensemble and work so organically and generously together,” Manke says. “This has led to greater creativity because we all ‘feed’ off of one another.”

Learn more about Manke’s background and his approach to directing in the third episode of our podcast.

Learn more and buy tickets.

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