A deft and daring adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s seminal Peter Pan by Jason Woods, produced by Christ Episcopal Church and opening this week, is the latest high quality example of Northeast Florida's expanding catalog of originally produced theatre over the past three years. If a city’s cultural pulse is measured by a mix of its artistic opportunities and the network of creative individuals who work and play freely within it, Jacksonville's pulse is quickening. The trend is providing an increasing amount of arts and entertainment for both artists and casual audiences alike. Find the magic by continuing after the jump!
Growing up is the inevitable end of childhood, a transition that every adult experiences. Childlike awe and imagination fade, replaced with education, jobs, bills, and responsibilities. But when playwright Barrie wrote Peter Pan during the onset of the twentieth century, he tapped an essential piece inside every adult: the child.
Barrie based the titular character on his older brother, who died in preadolescence and remained a forever boy in his memory. The wondrous setting of Neverland, with its wayward children, pirates, mermaids, and Indians, lent itself to a novelization, a sequel, and a handful of film adaptations featuring the well-known Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook.
This new adaptation is written and directed by Woods, as is its original music and songs.
The original production is the latest offering at Christ Episcopal’s School of the Arts and it comes on the heels of St. George and the Dragon from last fall. It is the latest in the church’s yearly allocation of spring musicals directed by Woods (such as previous productions The Wizard of Oz and Oliver!), which makes the Church one of the largest Patrons of the surprisingly multi-talented Jason Woods.
Woods can be recognized from a variety of major roles in recent Jacksonville productions, such as Players By the Sea’s As You Like It, and The 5 & Dime’s 33 Variations, as well as his one-man-show adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and as the voice of The Dragon in St. George.
Cameron Pfahler sits down with Woods to discuss the impetus for Pan, the process behind bringing productions to life at Christ Episcopal, the state of theatre in Jacksonville, and numerous other topics. Don’t miss his illuminating and articulate responses!
For even more Q & A, check out the full transcript of the interview at the bottom of the page!.
text and interview by cameron pfahler
(Photo Credit - L: Emmie Swift Chase, R: Matt Moore)]
APRIL 14 - 24
Evening performances: 7:30pm
Matinee performances: 3:00pm
Wednesday, April 13th: Preview Night
Thursday, April 14th: Premiere Party
From writer/director Jason Woods comes a NEW adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic tale, Peter Pan! Get ready for Neverland as you and the entire family go on an unforgettable adventure! Follow beloved characters Peter Pan and Captain Hook in this timeless story newly adapted for the stage, featuring hilarious new songs, captivating music, new choreogrpahy by Ashley Yarham, and one VERY large crocodile... get #readyforneverland!
Wendy Moira Angela Darling Summergrace Grable
John Darling William Chase
Michael Darling Casey Carroll
Peter Pan Blake McClure
Tinkerbell Madelyn Wells
George Darling / Indian Tribe Eric Yarham
Mary Darling Kirsten Yates
Jane Katherine Chase
Captain Hook Joshua Taylor
Smee Myles Edward Hughes
Starkey Juan Luis Ocharan
Noodler Meganne McCawley Johnson
Pirate Cesar Brian Johnson
Pirate Romero Jimmy Pennella
Pirate Burgess Alec Hadden
Pirate Meredith Boston Woods
Toodles Jack Niemczyk
Nibs Charlie Pennella
Curly Kristopher Stam
Slightly Justice Klingler
Tiger Lily Lauren Albert
Mermaid Moll Sadie La Manna
Nana Hannah Woods
Crocodile Tyler Lewis
Crocodile Cameron Pfahler
Indian Tribe Members
Shari Lin Muldoon
Julie A. Buckley
Vickie Layne Dell
Transcript of Audio Interview
Who is Jason Woods, in a nutshell?
In some ways, I’m relatively new to theatre, certainly compared to a lot of people in Jacksonville, so the opportunity to create, talk about and work in theatre is amazing, and I’m most grateful. A creative conjurer has been a way to describe me, at least when it comes to theatrical offerings. I love to act and direct, but that’s not all. I love to compose music, but usually within the framework of some sort of theatre or film. I’m evolving in many ways, but I’ve discovered I’m here to create worlds with music, acting, theatre, directing, everything I can do and hopefully things I don’t know that I can do yet.
What advice can you give other actors, playwrights, etc. who are struggling to realize their own creative vision?
Don’t give up. There is enough for everyone. Don’t give up. No one is your enemy, even if they act like it. Don’t give up. No one is going to hand you anything. Don’t give up. Did I say ‘don’t give up’?
What other offerings does Christ Episcopal have in terms of arts and entertainment?
Under music director Dr. Rachel Root, there are numerous arts education programs, concerts, recitals, a quarterly coffee house led by John Willim, and of course these theatrical productions. There is a musical each spring, and now, the inclusion of a fall production is becoming more regular. There is art on display in many places in the church as well. CEC is wonderful at acknowledging the world around it, and opening the doors in many ways, especially through the arts. The leadership at CEC has really unified behind the arts and being a presence for cultural significance in the community, more so than any other religious organization I’ve been exposed to, and certainly to a higher level.
What does it take to be a director of various and sizeable productions?
A good team. I couldn’t do it without my team. Lora Christl is my indispensable stage manager, Matt Moore and Garrett Spies on lights and sound, Pam Joiner leading the costume crew, Rachel Root and Barb Roberts, the ultimate cheerleaders and enablers. A host of others, and a great cast and crew.
What can audiences who know the Peter Pan mythos inside and out expect from your production?
All I can say is that you’ll know these characters (except for a new one I’ve created for this show, portrayed by the wonderful Sadie La Manna), but they will not be represented as you have seen them before; Peter Pan doesn’t wear a little green hat with a red feather. Indians are not stereotyped. The pirates have purpose, as do the mermaids. The story has deep themes. The direction of the 1953 Walt Disney animated version was clearly aimed at appealing to a different culture and time. It endures to a great degree, but I’ve tried to cull the best parts of that, the more poignant elements in the book, and my own taste for what I want to see.
What can we expect from you in the future? Any hints you would like to share?
The world is a tough place, and being part of building magical worlds for people to visit and have good feelings is a wonderful position, an honor, really. I also love and need really, really good drama, and am also ready for some Shakespeare and some other projects that will push me and those brave enough to climb aboard. How that and other magical stories begin to come to life will unfold soon. I have support from incredible people, and their belief in me is inspiring me to think a little further outside current conventions.
With theatre being such a collaborative effort, what benefits does one gain from taking on more than just one role at a time?
I think ‘taking’ might be the wrong verb here. I think ‘being’ is the truth of it. Leading in areas where others might not feel as developed, I hope to inspire them to have courage and think, “Hey, I can do that too!” I’m operating within my capacities, and always looking to push my limits. So I don’t ‘take’ the role of director, actor or composer, or anything else; these are simply things that I do because of who I am, and I hope to discover more capabilities in the future. Some people operate really well with one capacity, others operate well with more than one. When I’m not pushed, I push myself. I’ve had people tell me that I shouldn’t do ‘a’ and ‘b?’, because ‘a’ will suffer and don’t even think about ‘c’ because then ‘b’ will be left behind. I don’t know how they know this, and yes, I have a lot to do, an extraordinary workload, really, but I’m doing what I love. So why are they telling me that? I don’t know. But the benefit is knowledge, experience, increased capacity, collaboration, and community. As long as I’m fortunate enough to be doing this, I’m going to continue. I see too much good happening in people’s lives to stop.
In what ways do you see the landscape of theatre in Jacksonville changing? Do you see any trends emerging?
With regard to change, I think there is more interest in theatre, but mostly within the theatre community itself, so in some ways, it’s the same as ever. Some people have called this time for whatever reason a renaissance, but I would respectfully disagree. I think there is interest, and a desire to do better work (maybe there is a renaissance in that?), which is good, but doing better work takes a lot of time and training, a lot of energy, a willingness to be stretched and challenged, and eventually more resources. The renaissance, therefore, if there is going to be one, is down the road. So I would describe what’s happening now simply as ‘what’s happening now’. I think I see people wanting things to be better in a lot of areas, or be involved in better work, but until they change how they do things and define why they do them, it will be cyclical, whether it is good, bad or mediocre. I also think there is more general interest in original work, which is a good thing. That really needs attention fast, because the artists that are creating are going to explode, and there won’t be anyone ready to support them, and they will seek other places for that support. A program is one thing, but a methodology, a philosophy is something artists are looking for, in mission statements as well as actions. So I’m glad original work has been done, and people are talking about it, but it isn’t the norm yet.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of Peter Pan thus far?
Hands down, the people. Humble, talented, generous. Artistically, it’s amazing to hear people singing, whistling, quoting lines from your show, or seeing their mouths drop as we reveal another element. Great fun. The pirates have really forged an ensemble I’m proud of. In fact, it was their synergy that made me want to turn the Crocodile’s theme into a song for them to sing. Alec Hadden, Myles Hughes, Brian and Meganne Johnson, Juan Ocharan, Boston Woods, Jim Panella simply shine as the pirates behind Joshua Taylor’s delicious Hook performance. Even with all the challenges of 70 in cast and crew, everyone is really a delight, and the enthusiasm is unmatched.
What is your definition of theatre? And how has that definition changed over time?
Theatre is a beautiful, communal, sweet sadness. It’s a fire we prepare over time, and then gather people around to ignite. Everyone basks in its warmth as they breathe in the aroma, and then we watch it disappear. It’s telling good stories well. I’ve learned you can do that anywhere, as long as people are willing. This is why even staged readings are important, and that’s happening in Northeast Florida as well, in theatres and homes. Theatre is an experience; it’s the difference in watching a fire and being warmed by one. Then, it occurs to you that you can make fires with which to warm others. Then, who knows what will happen?
Artistic expression can be both personal and universal. What does it take to best realize this expression? And how do you ‘stay true’ to it?
You have to create, write, act what you know, and if you don’t know, learn it. This is why a lot of new art struggles, because it is only personal. But when you stop doing it or anything else solely for yourself, you have the opportunity to resonate with others. When you find a piece of yourself that others have experienced or are going through, that’s when you’re living in more than one world, and the opportunity to connect with others is multiplied. It takes teachability more than anything, and simply getting your work out there, not waiting for everyone’s approval or enthusiasm, because they won’t hand that to you. Your work has to touch them; it has to give them something.
Why do Jacksonville audiences need theatre?
They don’t, yet. It isn’t required for survival, like any art. But like C.S. Lewis said, it ‘gives value to survival.’ At least this seems true on the surface. That’s why our work needs to be the best it can be all the time, so that people want to see it because it is good. I think hype has let people down. Artists certainly need theatre, and largely it is produced in that way here. But perhaps people should rethink how and what they offer. ‘What do people want to see’ is a great question, ‘what will fill seats’ is not. We don’t need a full house on opening night because we are trying to pay bills at the theatre. We need a full house because we want more people together. Bills have to be paid, yes, but that’s why we need to do worthy work. People support what they help to create, and they want to be involved in a meaningful way. Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” How are we making people feel? It’s too easy to say what we’re doing in theatre, but never address why. I think people get interested in your work when they see ‘why’.
How does Peter Pan appeal to your sensibilities as a storyteller? As a director?
There’s a magic in J.M. Barrie’s world that people love to hear, and they love these characters, so you have an audience that is already there to live the story again. The world of Neverland is loosely defined, and so it’s open to interpretation, creativity, experimentation. It was also the first play I saw, and so it’s always going to be important for me.
How would you describe the collaboration between yourself and Christ Episcopal in terms of choosing productions, casting, rehearsals, etc?
Strong, forged in fire, close, and trusting. It’s a wonderful place to be. When I’m not sure, I ask them; when they are not sure, they ask me. We might disagree, and have a lot. But we all want the same thing.
How do you deal with creative setbacks?
I find another way. Making a dragon wasn’t something I had a blueprint for, and making a crocodile for Peter Pan was only a bit easier because I had sculpted the dragon, but there were completely different parameters and requirements. Walking away and breathing, clearing your head. You begin to know that there is a solution, another piece of music, another note, another line, another blocking solution always there, somewhere in the hands of the muse. But at times it won’t present itself. It wants to be found by you, as if it is saying, “How badly do you want this to be born?” The great struggles often yield the greatest rewards. But I love it when it’s easy, too.
How does Peter Pan differ from St. George and previous Christ Episcopal productions?
Peter Pan was initially a solution to another show being pulled (The Sound of Music). It’s become massive, and over an incredibly short period of time. I’m blown away. St. George was similar; completely original, ambitious, and demanding, but I had about 4 months to write and score it. This is the second original production at CEC, following SGATD. Clearly both are ambitious, and clearly both take a LOT of work from everyone involved. To know they are bringing this vision to life (and to realize that St. George was brought to life in that way twice), is humbling and gratifying. Also, Joshua Taylor played a loving baker in SGATD, and now he’s Hook. C’mon.
How do you integrate musical compositions into your productions?
I try to do it in service to the story. I like to think of theatre cinematically. The films, theatre, and ballet I saw as a child stuck with me, especially the music. I think about characters, moments, sections that need, well, underscoring, to highlight the story. I think we are hardwired to respond to music, and if there’s a scene that captures my emotions, I want music there. However, silence is incredibly useful as well. Ultimately it’s about emotional relevance and connection, which is the same end of the story.
How does a Christ Episcopal production differ from other local venue’s shows?
You’ll have to come and see. I am always trying to present my best work, and expect that of others as well. We schedule our rehearsals in advance because the work is important. We seek excellence not for its own sake, but for the enhancement of life at large. There is purpose behind it, and a desire for good to occur in others lives because of what they offer to the world around them.