When director Kathryn Chase Bryer saw Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway five years ago, she was blown away by how it created stage images in such a minimalistic way. Now her version, in which she is able to extend the Broadway version in an intimate venue, opens at Constellation Theatre this weekend.
“I love this style of theater, where actors are telling a story on a very basic, simple set with very little props and using things transformationally, so that we create images that are iconic and we recognize through simple ideas,” she says. “I think that’s really magical and it’s one of the reasons I do theater—to challenge the audience to fill in the blanks and to think.”
The ideal production for Bryer involves the audience being an integral part of the process, not just sitting there in a passive way.
“It’s really about the audience coming and bringing something to the piece, as well as the piece entertaining, but they need to fill in the parts to make it work,” she says. “For me, that’s the most exciting part of theater.”
That’s why Imagination Theatre’s associate artistic director was immediately on board to return to Constellation Theatre Company for the first time since helming Scapin three years ago, to take on its staging of Peter and the Starcatcher.
“There are so many times when we were working on the show that we talked about how we were going to do something, and do we need to hide this from the audience, but I would tell them, ‘no, we can do whatever we want and it’s acceptable’ because this piece is so theatrical that we decide to show all the bones. That’s the convention of this piece,” Bryer says. “It’s very liberating as a director. I do some of this at Imagination Stage, because we tend to do things that are traditional but in a new way.”
Bryer therefore is very much at home with using that style of theatricality to tell a story, and notes choreographers Mollye Maxner and Kelly Maxner were also very comfortable with the challenge, since they often write a lot of what they do – they received a 2016 Helen Hayes Award for Occupied Territories at Theater Alliance – and are savvy innovators when it comes to movement.
She says her biggest challenge in directing this play also became her biggest strength.
“This was a piece that was devised and it is published, so you have to be very careful and follow the script, yet at the same time, when you’re following the script of a piece that’s devised, you sort of have to find your own way into it and be respectful to what’s on the written page,” Bryer says. “That is a very big challenge. Lots of time things came from a particular actor or created right there, and it’s on us to find those moments that are new and different for us but remains true to the original.”
Want to go?
Peter and the Starcatcher
Constellation Theatre Company
February 9 – March 12, 2017
Details and tickets
Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson with a book by Rick Elice and music by Wayne Barker, Peter and the Starcatcher is a grownup prequel to the treasured story of Peter Pan. By use of clever wordplay, daring movement and live music, the story’s journey takes audiences to shipwrecks, spectacular mermaids and the secret to eternal youth.
“This piece was devised by a small group of actors. It did so well it moved to Broadway,[they] took what was a very small and intimate piece and made it into a theater with 1,500 seats in it,” she says. “Experiencing this play in a huge theater like the Kennedy Center where it sat for a while a year ago, is very different than being at the Source in a 120-seat, intimate theater.”
Bryer says to also expect a more immersive production than others in the past, as she has action happening in the aisles and around the audience, helping the audience to feel much more a part of it all.
Looking ahead to opening night on Sunday, Feb. 12, Bryer expects audiences to experience the same sense of wonder they may have had seeing Peter Pan as youngsters.
“I think our movement is fantastic. We have a very beautifully, sculpted stage, which A.J. (Guban) has created for us. We have 13 actors and two live musicians and a lot of actors play music throughout and I think people will be surprised at how incredibly athletic the piece is. There’s a lot of really interesting movement.”
Up next for Bryer is The Late Wedding at the Hub in Fairfax, VA and directing a rock n’ roll version of Alice in Wonderland at Imagination Stage.