Monday, November 30, 2015

Holly Poe Durbin's Costumes Bring Magic to Life

In our last post, Holly Poe Durbin described her design process from research to working with the costume team. Now, take a look as her creations are brought to life in our production of Peter and the Starcatcher.

Holly's design for Black Stache, as worn by Michell Jarvis.
Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Holly's design for Lord Aster, as worn by Ray Dooley.
Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Holly's design for the Mollusks, worn by (L to R) John Allore, Myles Bullock, Schuyler Scott Mastain, Jeffrey Blair Cornell, William Hughes. Photo by Curtis Brown.

Holly's design for the Orphans, Ted, Prentiss and Peter, as worn by (L to R)
Evan Johnson, Daniel Bailin, and Jorge Donoso. Photo by Curtis Brown.

Holly's design for Slank, as worn by John Allore.
Photo by Curtis Brown.

Experience Peter and the Starcatcher! Onstage now through December 12.

Click here or call our Box Office 919-962-7529 for tickets.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Holly Poe Durbin: Creating Costumes for Peter and the Starcatcher

Centered around pirates and magic, Peter and the Starcatcher is a fast-paced production, giving actors the joy, and responsibility, of alternating rapidly between multiple characters. While some characters need little or no physical change, others require complete transformation. "This type of play is very much like doing a musical—once the music starts there’s little room for variation. The entire design team must create a world for the play that will enhance speed and fluidity," explains costume designer Holly Poe Durbin.

Holly says her start, working on ensemble pieces for the pre-Broadway production of Angels in America and an early version of The Kentucky Cycle, taught her about story structure and dramatic intent, which helped with this production.
The design process starts before the roles are even cast. "The director (Brendon Fox), actors and costume designer collaborate to make the thousand small decisions that bring each character to life," says Holly.  She starts by sorting through which characters are fully formed and dynamic, and which are portrayed in a partial way as fleeting momentary characters.

The design team spent hours creating a storyboard for the show with Brendon.
"Together we started forming rules about the world such as equating "star stuff," a magical substance, with light. Any character encountering it will have shiny surfaces or light qualities to their costumes. Another rule we established is identifying each moment by interpreting whose point of view we are seeing through."
After discussing these things at length with the entire team, Holly was able to put pencil to paper and begin to actually design the costumes. Her design process is broken into three steps. Holly began by doing a lot of research, which included reading the Peter and the Starcatchers books and the original Peter Pan stories. She collected images that inspire her, then curated those images into mood boards for specific characters.
Research mood boards for Black Stache and pirate costume details.

Then, Holly created pencil sketches used to bounce ideas around with Brendon. In some cases the sketches changed several times, as artists changed their ideas and Holly redesigned the characters. This phase wrapped up when casting began so Holly could work with each actor's approach and add it into the mix.

The final step was when sketches went to the PlayMakers costume shop for brainstorming with the costume team. At this stage, Holly worked with the team to solve any challenges that arose.
"It takes a large pool of specialists to create a show like Peter. PlayMakers has a spectacular reputation for being able to create a top notch stage vision and I was very excited to know I was coming here to do Peter and the Starcatcher."
Come and enjoy Peter and the Starcatcher. Onstage through December 12.

For tickets, click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lighting Designer Xavier Pierce on Finding Inspiration

To set the mood for Peter and the Starcatcher, lighting designer Xavier Pierce found inspiration from a variety of places, from his home in New York City and the work of artist Victor Eredel, to pictures and artwork such as the images we see below.

To begin designing for a play, Xavier reads the script and filters through the words, sifting through his "own emotional database of living." He does this in an effort to make emotional connections with the words, then creates lighting that coincides with those emotions. Xavier describes this picture as "starstuff." He says, it's "an organic/spiritual compound used to reinvent nature as the beholder sees it in the mind."

The artist of the photo to the right, Victor Eredel, "is a visual artist who uses hyper lucid surrealistic backgrounds with hand developed beings in his work. The storytelling and visual superiority of his works spoke to me, embraced me and inspired me to dream about the play as small children dream," explained Xavier.

When asked about his experiences designing at PlayMakers (4000 Miles, The Mountaintop), Xavier replied, "I think of PlayMakers as home... I feel so much warmth when I step through the doors of the Paul Green Theatre. I open up the doors and see my brothers and sisters working hard doing their craft and being passionate about theatre."

"The Neverland and the Wasp" 

 Here's an example a sketch by Xavier; he uses drawings to help visualize and create the lighting for each scene.

"We dreamed as kids and now we dream as artists"

Dream with us as Peter and the Starcatcher takes the stage November 18 - December 12.

Click here or call our Box Office 919-962-7529 for tickets.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Let's Go Flying with Brendon Fox

Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

"Imagine a mashup of Treasure Island, Harry Potter and Monty Python, involving magic, friendship, first love, and flying cats. Something for everyone!"

- Director Brendon Fox
describing Peter and the Starcatcher 

Most children have fantasized about flying, and director Brendon Fox was no different. For him, flying meant freedom and exploration, and more importantly, escaping adults who told him what he could and couldn't do.

Director Brendon Fox
Brendon, in addition to directing at theatres across the country, including Opus and Angels in America for PlayMakers, is an Assistant Professor of Drama at Washington College in Maryland. He says that as much as he wanted to catch a production of Peter and the Starcatcher in the past, he's glad he didn't have the chance as this has allowed him to come to our production with fresh eyes.

Brendon confides that he's fallen in love with so many things about this production: "The play manages to capture a sincere sense of wonder and imagination." It incorporates music and puppets, while holding onto the imagination required to play "make believe."

Peter and the Starcatcher tells the story an orphan boy with no name and a Starcatcher-in-Training in the late 19th century, as they strive to keep magical "starstuff" out of the hands of pirates and other nefarious characters.
"The young people having adventures in Peter and the Starcatcher have the time of their lives, encountering dastardly pirates, crazy weather, animals out to eat them, and exotic natives of foreign islands. This show invites us to live vicariously through them – to see the world through their eyes, full of danger, joy, laughter, and even experience some hard lessons about growing up. "
Magic and wonder of childhood. Photo by Heather Perry

The sheer size of the production presents challenges and opportunities for the cast and crew. Brendon compares the scope of Starcatcher to that of a Shakespearean production with a large cast, many locations and interpretations unique to each situation.
"The cast has to be incredibly versatile to transform into so many characters, often in front of the audience. The design team and I have spent six months going over every moment and location in the play, and have storyboarded (like a film shoot) how we are going to evoke every location and approach events ranging from a storm onstage to a dense jungle."
This has put the creative team to the test like kids playing with found objects and using their imagination to create a pirate ship or an island. Brendon says this encourages audiences to fill in the blanks. "We're not trying to be too literal or spell things out for those watching the play." Ideally, he wants the audience to view the show through the eyes of a preteen, though the show is full of humor, heart and magic for all ages.

Ready to fly? Join us for Peter and the Starcatcher November 18 - December 12.

Click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529 for tickets.

Meet the Creators of Peter and the Starcatcher

Writers Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson don pirate regalia.

As our production sets sail, we invite you to meet the inventive originators of Peter and the Starcatcher!

Rick Elice
Rick Elice (adaptation). Born in New York City in 1956, Elice attended Cornell University and the Yale School of Drama. Additional Broadway credits include Jersey Boys (co-authored with Marshall Brickman, 2006), and The Addams Family (again with Brickman as collaborator, 2010). Regional and international works include Turn of the Century (2008), the thriller Double Double (with Roger Rees), Leonardo’s Ring and the musical Dog and Pony (both 2003), and the Studio 54 musical, 15 Minutes (2015). Elice also co-authored the film adaptation of Jersey Boys, directed by Clint Eastwood (2014).

Wayne Barker (music). Additional Broadway credits include Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance! (composer and co-lyricist with Barry Humphries, 2004). Regional credits range from The Great Gatsby, and Twelfth Night to The Three Musketeers (all 2006). Television: The children’s series, A Little Curious (1998-2000). Other: Chicago City Limits, the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, and performances in orchestras worldwide. Barker is an artistic associate for new musicals at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Dave Barry
Dave Barry (novel). Born in Armonk, New York in 1947, Barry is a prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author of more than two dozen books, alternating fiction with non-fiction. His most recent works include the novel Insane City (2013) and a collection of essays Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) (2015).

Fun fact: humorist Dave Barry helped put International Talk Like a Pirate Day on the map by promoting it in his syndicated newspaper column. "Aarrrr!!!"

Ridley Pearson (novel). Born in Glen Cove, New York in 1953, Pearson has also written the award-winning Young Adult series Kingdom Keepers, set inside Disney theme parks, as well as best-selling crime novels for adults. In 1990, he was the first American awarded Oxford University’s Raymond Chandler-Fulbright Fellowship.

Ahoy, mateys! Join us for Peter and the Starcatcher November 18 - December 12.

Click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529 for tickets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Scenic Designer McKay Coble: Making a Magical Neverland

Through her intricate design of Neverland, scenic designer McKay Coble aims to transport the audience back to their childhood where magic feeds off itself and imagination. She wants to remind adults what it was like to be an imaginative kid and create something complicated out of nothing. "I want them to look at the set and go 'Oh, I had a tree house like that, I had a fort. I’ve picked up a switch, and it was a sword.'"

Source: My Modern Met: The ultimate children's pirate bedroom
The design process was much different for this play. McKay first began by looking for common denominators in how children envision and imagine becoming a pirate. "I started looking at treehouses, ropes, ships and all the elements that going into the imaginative world where one might be a pirate. I also looked at found object art where you’re holding a spade and suddenly it becomes a bird."

Sometimes a draft is made, then a model is built. In this production, sketching and modeling were done at the same time since the play is so active. With a large company of 13 cast members, all of whom are constantly doing something, McKay worked closely with the rest of the team to create actions on top of each other and build a world where anything can happen.
"I wanted this set to do a lot of things. It has mermaids, flying, birds, and cats; it has one of everything. The play has lots of opportunities for special effects, and that's a challenge. The set has tons of props and it does everything- it spins and it flips. The technology PlayMakers has sets it apart from the other places where I’ve designed. The technology that we practice and teach is probably some of the best in the country. Our production shops are not afraid to do anything, and they can do anything. We challenge one another and stretch our abilities. There’s very little I can think of that they can't do, so I’m not limited. I can think about people flying and magic without having to worry that we can’t do it- because I know we can."
From right to left: Source: Hub Pages, unforgettable tree houses; Enchanted Forest BC; McKay's sketch of the set

When McKay, who loves the story of Peter Pan, heard that Brendon Fox was directing, she knew she wanted to be a part of this production. "[Brendon] has a mind that runs 500 miles an hour and it's invigorating. Sometimes it feels like you're on a runaway train, but you're always headed in an imaginative direction." McKay says one of the best parts of working with Brendon is that he doesn't come into a show with any preconceived ideas; he works with the team so that one idea triggers another.

Source: Arthur Rackham's "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens"
She and Brendon worked closely together while designing the set, looking at many of Chris Van Allsburg's books, as well as illustrations from Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This research manifests its oldness in the set indirectly. "I can look at the original work by J.M. Barrie and a million images of Neverland, but for me it's not about that Peter Pan, it's about how he becomes Peter Pan."

To McKay, this is the highlight of our production - the collaborative effort and imagination of the team in creating her vision of how Peter Pan comes to be. "It's the kind of piece where everybody puts out ideas whether they have to do with their particular niche or not and everything works together through constant communication."

Bring a sense of wonder and imagination and join us for Peter and the Starcatcher November 18 - December 12.

Click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529 for tickets.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Awfully Big Adventures: The Lure of Neverland

by Gregory Kable

Richard Linklater’s sky gazing opening from Boyhood (2014), and Peter Pan creator James M. Barrie.

We live in an age of revisionist art. A dizzying array of sequels, prequels, remakes, origin stories, samplings, spin-offs and franchises meet the constantly expanding alternate characters and virtual plotlines of fan fiction; books become plays which beget musicals which become films, then are restaged in their movie guise and repackaged in book form all over again. A dissenting view on such trends is voiced in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, where a troubled, fearful Mormon wife, Harper Pitt, laments “imagination can’t create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions with the appearance of novelty and truth.” But Harper’s perspective isn’t the last word, as Kushner places her delimiting comments within a scene of flamboyant magic realism, itself a bold affirmation of human imagination, and her rendezvous ends with Harper trading genuine insights about innermost truths with an AIDS-stricken gay man facing the specter of mortality, who identifies their present surreal environment, “the very threshold of revelation sometimes.”

While author James M. Barrie predates this cultural landscape by more than a century, both his method of reinventing materials in subtle to surprising ways and his love of the worlds of imaginative literature and the practical magic of the theatre make him a natural inhabitant of our times, and one whose best works likewise deliver us from the ordinary to a place of revelatory power. Barrie introduced Peter Pan as a cameo character in his novel The Little White Bird in 1902. Two years later, Barrie premiered his beloved stage version focusing on Peter as the now archetypal Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up as he subtitles the play. The original Pan episodes from Little White Bird soon morphed into another book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), and the play was finally novelized as Peter and Wendy in 1911. Barrie’s playful, fluid, at times obsessive approach serves as one point of confluence with contemporary practice, and Peter Pan, of course, has since taken on a life of its own, finding expression in every form of art and genre of media. But what accounts for its continued relevance and timeless appeal?

An answer might lie in a notable contrast. Richard Linklater’s recent groundbreaking film Boyhood, shot over the span of a dozen years, is the story of a boy we both narratively and literally watch age and mature, witnessing its central figure Mason Evans’ passages through childhood and a host of encounters, both pleasurable and painful, before reaching the cusp of adulthood and embarking on college. Though like Barrie’s hero a dreamer who never allows reality to extinguish his love of life’s adventures, Mason is the anti-Peter Pan. The film’s poignancy lies in the inevitability of the small disillusionments and negotiations with circumstances we see etched in actor Ellar Coltrane’s face as he grows from innocence to experience.

     Advertising posters heralding the range of fancy in Peter Pan’s initial London stage run (1904-13).
“It is simply a matter of light attracting light. The pleasure taken by audiences at Peter Pan has come from the fact that whatever is human and healthful in thought or feeling in them has been touched by Barrie’s humanity.” - producer Charles Frohman (1906).

Peter Pan is the spirited negation of that stubborn world of fact. Barrie releases us from the bonds of convention in an environment where dominant values, gender roles (and given the tradition of cross-casting Peter, gender identity), even gravity no longer apply. Just as daring is the equanimity the titular hero shows in the face of death, which Peter characterizes as he previously had life as “an awfully big adventure.” As Edwardian journalist Oscar Parker observed in reflections on the play in 1906, Barrie’s triumph lay not in recalling “the actual visions of childhood, but the whole mental life of the child, when reality and dreams merge into one another.” Barrie struck a chord with an embodiment of unfettered potential in a period of historical and social upheaval. In The Century Magazine (also 1906), critic Louise Boynton notes how Peter Pan is the glorious rebuttal to the tone of cynicism defining much of the literature of the day. And both social instability and the prevalence of a studied irony in popular culture further closes that apparent distance between Barrie’s time and our own.

Barrie found kindred souls in novelists Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, whose 2005 source novel Peter and the Starcatchers reimagined Barrie’s fantasy for the burgeoning landscape of Young Adult fiction, one of the rare sites of explosive growth amid the changing fortunes of the publishing industry. In the tradition of the narrative-bending Barrie, Starcatchers was followed by several more books, Peter and the Shadow Thieves (2006), Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (2007), Peter and the Sword of Mercy (2009), and The Bridge to Never Land (2011), leading to a trilogy of new works set on Never Land; Escape from the Carnivale (2006), Cave of the Dark Wind (2007), and Blood Tide (2008). Our production’s director Brendon Fox memorably described the progress of Rick Elice’s skillful stage adaptation as “shaking the Etch A Sketch”, and that metaphor is as applicable to Barrie’s career long fascination with Peter, as it is to the wealth of retellings leading to this latest variant. And as to the medium, the wonder, danger, surprise and delight of the subject matter finds a perfect marriage in Elice and Barker’s celebration of theatrical artifice.

Barrie’s 1904 play taking shape, flanked by its subsequent appearance in novel form and current incarnation.
Final thoughts on the reign of Barrie’s creation and the widespread allure of Peter and the Starcatcher can be found by applying these companion pieces to a seminal statement from British stage director Peter Brook, whose 1968 book on theatre, The Empty Space, became a standard text.
“In everyday life, ‘if’ is a fiction, in the theatre ‘if’ is an experiment.
In everyday life, ‘if’ is an evasion, in the theatre ‘if’ is the truth.
When we are persuaded to believe in this truth, then the theatre and life are one.”
In whatever version, Peter Pan has acquired the status of myth, awakening the sleeping child within, allowing us to defy and finally make our peace with loss and aging, and to keep equal faith with the faculty of imagination and the stage as a site of its precious gift of possibility. As Peter and the Starcatcher so lovingly demonstrates, the human instinct for recreation may be more formalized in the theatre, but the ways by which the stage liberates our energies and frees us to partake of its revelations are those selfsame means shared by Barrie and his protagonist, Barry and Pearson, Rick Elice and Wayne Barker, and now PlayMakers and its audiences through this production: as Brook sagely concludes, “a play is play.”

 The infant Peter on his flight path home in Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906) and the last illustration from the Barry and Pearson novel.
Peter and the Starcatcher takes flight in the Paul Green Theatre beginning November 18th.

Click here or call our Box Office at 919-962-7529 for tickets.