Peter Pan: A Journey to Rewrite

Leah ShaefferLeah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education.

Lately, I’ve been making a lot of preparations for our STAR Summer Camps.  While many pieces and parts of Gulfshore Playhouse have the chance to rest a bit during the summer, it is the busiest—and, arguably, the most wonderful—time of the year for GP Education!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Gulfshore Playhouse will have ten camp offerings for children ages 4 through 17, as well as a high school counselor program, for Summer 2015.  That’s a whole lot.  And I could never, ever do all of the leg work alone:  Most, if not all of our staff, has already put in hours of work on our summer camps, preparing everything from scenic designs for our productions to marketing and advertising.

peter-pan-wendy-webOne of our ten camp offerings is “STAR in a Play”, a camp for children entering grades 3 through 8.  “STAR in a Play” campers will be performing a brand-new adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s beloved classic, Peter Pan and Wendy.  This is, of course, very exciting, but it does present a particular challenge for me:  Writing it.

No, I’m no stranger to writing children’s plays, especially adaptations of existing works.  But this one’s a little bit different, and a lot closer to my heart.  I’ve always loved the stories of Peter Pan.  I grew up reading the originals as well as the spin-offs, and Wendy Darling was the last role I played in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how very boy-centric these stories are.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Peter and the Lost Boys are, first and foremost, boys.  But in my re-reading of Peter and Wendy, Barrie’s original Peter Pan novel, I’ve noticed that the voices of the girl characters, from Wendy to Tinkerbell, are often silenced or reduced to one-dimensional female stereotypes.  Wendy is motherly.  Tinkerbell is feisty.  The girls are also too often pitted against each other—the nameless mermaids even attempt to drown Wendy, at one point.  Tinkerbell is jealous of Wendy, and Wendy is jealous of Tiger Lily, and all of this jealousy centers on a boy—Peter himself.

While Neverland is a magical, wonderful place, I just wasn’t sure that I could do a straight-up adaptation of the original novel, in good conscience.  I want our young actresses, all in formative stages of their lives, to be able to play well-rounded female characters—not just overblown caricatures of girlish behaviors, both “good” and “bad”.  Every experience as immersive as our “STAR in a Play” camp will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on the campers involved—shouldn’t that experience be one that empowers both girls and boys?

And so, I’ve embarked on a mission:  To create a version of Peter and Wendy that will do just that.  Thankfully, I also have the assistance of one of my talented and powerful STARwrights (playwriting students) in writing this adaptation… but more on her contributions later!

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