Groups of local children and teens were rehearsing for an upcoming run of “Peter Pan,” as either pirates or Lost Boys on a recent Tuesday night.
Co-director Olivia Cowell was working with the Lost Boys, which not surprisingly included girls and boys, some as young as 7. Cowell said she can feel the energy from the group, the second she walks into the theater. The best part of working with the group is “the joy and love they bring to every single day of practice,” she said. “If I could bottle that up and take it with me, it would be awesome. They are willing to try anything, they are ready to jump in and their imagination is right there.”
Cowell and Aimee Guillot are directing “Peter Pan,” which will open Thursday, Nov. 5, for a four-day run at the Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater. Cowell and Guillot run the nonprofit “cafeteria kids theater,” which Guillot estimates has taught more than 3,000 kids in Napa schools since 2007.
In J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the Lost Boys are boys who fell out of their prams (baby carriages) in London and end up in Neverland. Peter Pan leads them around Neverland like a merry troupe. During that Tuesday evening rehearsal, Peter Pan tells his Lost Boys he will never grow up and they pledge to do the same.
St. Helenans Anna Harrington and Beatrice Anadnostakis are both 9 years old and in the fourth grade at St. Helena Elementary School. They are part of the large group who are Lost Boys and say they love acting, especially with such a good group of people. “The best part of being in the play is all the action, I think,” Harrington said.
“We were in the same play, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ a year ago,” Anadnostakis added.
The two posed for a photograph with another St. Helenan, Josie Goldfarb, who is 12 and in the seventh grade at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School. She is the lead in this production.
“I’ve done ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ twice and I was in the Berkeley Rep camp this summer,” Goldfarb said. “I’ve been performing since I was 4.”
The seventh-grader said playing Peter Pan is a lot of fun but a lot of work, too. “It’s a lot of fun because we’re singing and working with everyone else,” she added. “I just like everyone who I work with.”
This week during four-hour rehearsals, Goldfarb and others are learning to fly on the Lincoln Theater stage and she admits she’s a little nervous about it.
Auditions for the musical began the last week of August and rehearsals began the following week. Guillot said Goldfarb is an “incredibly talented kid. She’s done theater before and did a class with us in the spring called ‘Best of Broadway.’ She’s a kid who’s got theater in her blood. She wowed us at our audition. She actually brought me to tears and that hasn’t happened in a long, long time.”
The 12-year-old sang a heartbreaking song from “Matilda,” a play based on a children’s novel written by Roald Dahl. Playwright is Dennis Kelly. Guillot said the song was about Matilda closing her eyes and shutting out the world. Goldfarb “just ate it up. It was extraordinary and I cried, I wept, she did a beautiful job and also did a wonderful reading of Peter,” she added.
Some of the 50 children and teens in the cast have theater experience and some do not. One of the most experienced is Karenna Meyer, 15, from Napa, who is cast as Captain Hook.
Her motley crew of pirates includes Bartholomew Webster, 11, Michael Rupprecht, 16, Charlie Morris, 11, and his older brother, Fred, who is 14, Bryce Hunt, 15, Arthur Mautner, 14, Laila Schnebelt, 17, Sterling MacDonell, 15, and Juan Puentes-Ramirez, who is the youngest pirate at 9. (And the most athletic, since he walked on his hands during rehearsal.)
The rehearsals are part of cafeteria kids theater’s production class and as such everyone who auditioned got a part and are expected to learn about the rehearsal process — whether they are 7 years old or 16.
“The idea is that when we shape it as a class, we want to bring in kids who never had the experience and create a safe space for them to discover whether they like it, whether they want to pursue it,” Guillot said.
The focus of the class is playmaking, she added, “giving kids the opportunity to go from page to stage,” to put on a full-scale production and give the cast the opportunity to go through a long show weekend, just to see what it’s like. Guillot added the cast members also build their confidence and their public speaking skills, learn what it’s like to work with language and how to work in a group to create an ensemble.