Chaos, Hysteria, Madness… and Utter Magic – Heather Jopling

When I was five years old, I saw a community theatre production of The Hobbit. That was the production that gave me the theatre bug. It changed my life. 

In 2013,  I had the absolute joy to direct the Northumberland Players’ production of Peter Pan at the Capitol Theatre. I was blessed with an incredibly imaginative production crew of over 25 individuals and a talented cast, headed by the incomparable Tanya Wills as Peter and Chris Sharp as Captain Hook, supported by 34 other community actors (23 of whom were energetically enthusiastic children). Directing Peter Pan was like herding cats. It was chaos… hysteria… madness… and utter magic. 

Tanya Wills as Peter Pan in Peter Pan.

I would sneak into the foyer during intermission so that I could listen to the audience kids as they talked non-stop about what they had seen in the first act. Watching them, all dressed up for a matinee, explaining what the play was about to their parents? Sheer theatrical bliss! When our crocodile, with its 6 foot long papier maché head and 10 foot fabric body made its way through the aisles, kids would STAND UP and point and yell “MUMMY!!! IT’S THE CROCODILE!!!!” When Tinker Bell’s light started to fade, hearing those kids’ clap to bring her back, gives me goosebumps just writing this.

“We made people fly!”

We made people fly! With people backstage pulling on ROPES!! To see Tanya Wills fly out over the audience sprinkling fairy dust for the curtain call was the essence of live theatre – transporting an audience from one physical space into another realm and giving children (and adults alike) memories for a lifetime.  

Wendy and Captain Hook in Peter Pan. The Lost Boys and Pirates look on in the background.

Peter Pan gave me the opportunity to do a true community theatre production. Our Mrs. Darling, Colleen Lewis, was also a pirate; her son Hunter was a Lost Boy and her husband Derek was on our flying crew. Our props creator Mike and his daughter Christine were both part of Capt. Hook’s dastardly gang. 

Sisters Ayisha and Eile Hannigan were both Lost Boys, as were twins Kylie and Sydney Ferguson. Tanya Wills’ daughter Maya was a Lost Boy. One of our other pirates, Devin DeJong, a developmentally delayed adult with a fantastic singing voice, was a great addition to the cast.  A fellow pirate, John Kennedy, immediately volunteered to be Devin’s onstage support, giving Devin added confidence. 

The Lost Boys surround Mr. Darling in Peter Pan.

Ewan Jack, the 4 year old son of our Costume Coordinator Cara, so desperately wanted to be a part of the show like his older brother Malcolm, who played one of our two Michaels. Ewan would come to rehearsal and watch, absolutely entranced. Cara asked if it would be at all possible for Ewan to be involved in the show in some small way. Having watched him during rehearsals pretending to sleep like all the Lost Boys, seeing him mouthing the other kids’ lines and hearing him sing along with all the songs, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. For our very last show, Cara fashioned another costume and Ewan became our smallest Lost Boy. Ava Bogyay, another Lost Boy, herded him where he needed to be and made sure he didn’t fall into the pit during the big dance number. To see Ewan, filled with such joy as he got to BE a Lost Boy, was… a perfect community theatre moment.

Thank you to everyone involved in the show and to the Northumberland Players. It was a true privilege directing this show.

The cast and production team of Peter Pan.