“I like pirates,” laughs Ron Law, executive director of Theatre Charlotte, when asked why “Peter and the Starcatcher” was chosen to open the venerable community theater’s 91st season. He added, “We thought it might be good to shake things up after nine years of opening with a musical.”
The imaginative prequel to J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” is a swashbuckler indeed, replete with ships and precious cargo, pirates and orphans, and an apprentice Starcatcher named Molly. It’s a play with music; not a musical.
Jill Bloede is directing the play for the second time; the first being last year at Belmont Abbey College, where she is a tenured professor. When Bloede saw the 2014 Broadway Lights production based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, she was so mesmerized she had to see it twice. “We were in the back of the theater and I remember the audience was just rocking,” she said.
She returned, this time with a front-and-center seat so she could examine the production techniques.
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Bloede is a veteran Charlotte actor, with 17 years under her belt as a Children’s Theatre of Charlotte teaching artist. She first acted at Theatre Charlotte in “Shadow Box” in 1990. This will be the third Theatre Charlotte show she’s directed in the last four seasons, unusual at a theater that rarely books directors for two seasons in a row.
She has three college degrees, but “acting in plays and being in plays was the best education I ever had,” she said.
“Now when I am directing I want to be a performer, and when I’m acting I want to be a director. I’m in trouble,” she said. She’s in love with this cast, and is convinced the audience will feel the same.
In theater the fourth wall is a figurative screen between the audience and the actors; the audience can see the actors, but the actors can’t see the audience. That pretense doesn’t apply in “Peter and the Skycatcher.”
“In telling you the story we show you the story, in pirate accents,” said Bloede, an experienced vocal coach. Her challenge is to change the actor’s predominantly southern accents into standard British and Cockney.
Chris Timmons is Theatre Charlotte’s Associate Artistic Director. He maintains the technical quality of each show, and designs four productions a year, including this one. Scenic design is his tool to achieve significant mood shifts between the two acts.
“Act 1 is so claustrophobic,” said Timmons. “Act 2 is a much different place, a much different feel. I don’t want the play to be stagnant. For me a little bit of the magic is the design aspect, and how to create two completely different worlds.”
Timmons said the show can be staged so simply it could be performed in the lobby. However, it does fit nicely on the Theatre Charlotte stage. The show is extremely physical, actor driven, and full of discovery. “We could bring in technology, but the show doesn’t need it,” said Timmons. “There’s a lot of imagination so we don’t have to be literal with every scenic element.”
Law has been executive director of Theatre Charlotte for 14 seasons, one of a full-time staff of four. During his tenure “ticket sales have grown, contributed income has grown, budgets have grown, and the theater is the same size as ever,” he said.
The median age of the audience has lowered from 62-plus to 46 to 54, a feat that was achieved “with great patience and fingers crossed,” said Law.
Every year, Theatre Charlotte produces five main stage shows plus the “Christmas Carol.”
There are two summer stock shows; one performed by kids aged 9-14; the other a full-length musical by high school and college students. The theater has six paid performance interns and six design and tech interns. “We want a season that fulfills our mission, fits in our budget, that will fit professionally on our stage, that has acting opportunities for males, females and people of all races and ethnicities, and will sell tickets,” Law said.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” fits that criteria. Why does Bloede want to direct it again so soon? “For Pirate Booty,” she chuckled. “Because it is there, and it is the best play I’ve ever done.” Her last production was cast with college students; this cast has an age range of 16 to “too old to mention, but spry,” says Bloede. She plans to keep what her last production did well, and create even more magic this time around.
‘Peter and the Starcatcher’
‘Peter and the Starcatcher’
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 7-8, 14-15, 21-22; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12-13, 19-20; 2:30 p.m. Sept. 9, 16 and 23
WHERE: The Eloise MacDonald Playhouse, 501 Queens Road, Charlotte
DETAILS: (704) 376-3777; http://theatrecharlotte.org/tickets.shtml; https://www.carolinatix.org/venues/detail/theatre-charlotte,