I walked into the tent, and Peter and Wendy were already flying.
The Peter Pan in the Threesixty Theatre folks had invited some press types for a backstage tour. I’d been thinking about taking the family (husband Jay and 3 year old twins Ivona and Aksel) anyway, so I jumped at the chance to see the show and to partake of a little glimpse behind-the-scenes.
The Peter/Wendy flying that was happening, we were told, is the only instance in the show when two actors are in harnesses that are attached. For all the other flying, each actor is harnessed separately. (And, when all the Darling kids are in the air, it gets crowded up there.) The point was made that the relationship between each actor and the stage hand responsible for hoisting them aloft is close, strong, and full of trust.
It was well more than an hour before curtain when we went into the tent, but this isn’t the sort of production where the cast can slip into the theatre half-hour before things start. No, the stage was crowded with actors and crew. Everyone was going through their paces to ensure that all of the difficult and unusual aspects of the show will occur smoothly and safely.
That means running through the fighting and flying so that, when the team gets to that during the performance, they won’t be hitting it for the first time today while caught up in a rush of adrenaline (being in front of an audience) or while caught up in the rush of the plot’s momentum.
If you’ve done theatre anywhere, you know that this is what’s called “fight call.” Each act of PP 360 ends with a rather extended and highly populated fight, so there was a lot to run through, even apart from the flying and other stunts.
Generally, at a fight call, each instance of combat is run through twice. The first time, it’s done at half-speed, so the actors can hit all their marks with precision before a second, full-speed, show-speed run. This all is overseen not only by the stage manager, but also by the fight captain. Just as the stage manager takes over from the director once the show is open and the director leaves, the fight captain takes over from the fight choreographer once the show is open, and he is responsible for keeping the fights safe and consistent.
So, after Peter and Wendy came down out of the air, most of the cast was on stage, working in groups of two and three, going through the fight moves. Then, the entire group went through the full fight, with the fight captain answering questions, addressing concerns, and providing guidance and tips to the actors.
While this was going on, we were sitting in the house, getting a briefing from the production’s stage manager Scott Seidl. Dan Wilt, one of the production’s rotating actors in the title role (Peter Pan, not 360), was also there to answer our questions. Wilt spoke about how one’s center of gravity is different when in a harness and flying. He also estimated that, during rehearsals, the cast spent about five hours a day, four days a week working on the stage combat. In fact, he said, more fights had been developed and rehearsed than are currently employed in the show.
Once the fight call was over, we were joined by actors Stephen Carlile (Capt. Hook/Mr. Darling) and Sarah Charles (Wendy Darling). Both come to the production from the world of theatre, but Seidl estimated that about 40% of the cast and crew come from the circus world, as opposed to from the legitimate stage. (I mean the term “legitimate” to be descriptive, not pejorative — my family is really enjoying all of our circus experiences!)
Seidl pointed out the difficulty of shifting set pieces when a production is in the round, as PP 360 is. The solution? Set pieces are fastened to the floor. Segments of the floor are flipped around, and the outgoing set is then hanging beneath the stage upside down. That means that the crew under the stage have to detach and reattach set pieces which, from their perspective, are being put into place above them, as if on a ceiling. That’s not the easiest way to have to shift a set.
The in-the-round aspect, in a tent with no internal columns or anything else to create sight-line obstructions, enables the scenic projections to envelope the audience, creating an experience that was described to me as one part theatre, one part circus, one part IMAX screening.
Seidl spoke about a remarkable quality of the cast: the running time of the show (not including the intermission break) has been strikingly consistent at 87 minutes of playing time. Out of the 47 performances that the company had done before we spoke, only one clocked in at a different time, he reported.
I asked if, with all the flying, there have been any Spider Man style mishaps. All immediately and emphatically said ‘no’ and swiftly knocked on wood. There was one time when some actors got stuck in the air, the result of a “programming issue,” but the show was stopped and they were safely retrieved. With all of the effects and the moving scenery, there are safety lights to cue the actors when it is safe to step on a piece of scenery that had been in motion.
Had Carlile seen the recent live (TV) version of the Jule Styne musical version of Peter Pan, I asked him, and, if so, what had he thought of Christopher Walken’s turn as Hook? Carlile said he hadn’t seen it, and the others reacted somewhat disdainfully, as if to imply that he hadn’t missed anything. (I thought Walken was terrific!) Carlile did, however, talk about seeing the Spielberg film Hook. He not only thought that Dustin Hoffman was “brilliant” in the part, but he also said that he had stolen something from that portrayal, a bit involving Hook establishing a relationship with one of the lost boys.
Tysons Corner, where the show has been extended until Aug. 23rd, is the first stop of the current tour. Next up, they move on to play first Houston and then Dallas. Beyond that, there is nothing definite, but all seemed confident that other cities were falling into place and that the tour will continue beyond Texas. It’s such a complicated enough matter, though, to move the enterprise that the gap between cities is ten days, much longer than it is for more traditional tours that will load into existing theater spaces.
PETER PAN AT THE 360
EXTENDED! Must close August 23
The Three Sixty Theater
Tysons Corner Center
8200 Watson Street
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $25 – $100 or call 800 745-3000
Although this is the first stop on the tour, it is a second iteration for the project, which was first done about five years ago. Only one of the actors from that original version is still with the project and, funnily enough, it is the actor playing the youngest character: Scott Weston as Michael Darling. (After we learned this, Seidl gave him a shout-out and he gave us a wave.) Weston is also, we are told, the only authentic Brit in the cast, other than Carlile. Carlile, in fact, lays claim to the impressive credit of having played Scar in the first U.K. tour of The Lion King, for which tour Julie Taymor went over and was personally involved.
Although this tour is non-Equity, the actors jumped at the chance to talk about how well they are being taken care of. (“They look after us very well,” said Charles.) The cast has access to trainers to ensure that their bodies are equipped to handle the rigors of a performance that they compare to an athletic endeavor.
That said, they seem to need to have plenty of Peters in their stable. The Peter we saw that night (Taylor Simmons) was different from the Peter (Dan Wilt) made available to chat with us, who was in turn different from the Peter (Dan Rosales) at the performance reviewed by Keith Loria on DCTS.
And, on the way out after the show, we saw and chatted with a local actor with whom we have worked in the past. Why was he there? He was watching the show, having been contacted as a potential other Peter. Peters, Peters everywhere.
My kids, however, tend toward the villains. They love Cruella de Vil and “The Green Witch” in The Wizard of Oz. While the other kids in the crowd were hurling invective at Capt. Hook, our kids said that they love Capt. Hook. And after the (quite impressive!) crocodile dispatched the unlucky skipper, my daughter Ivona said, “The crocodile ate Capt. Hook. That was not nice.”