He is commonly known as the boy who never grew up, but I think it’s fair to say he never bloomed either.
This realization came to me as I watched my actors (or as I affectionately refer to them, my children) put on the first batch of performances of Peter Pan. Working on this show has been an experience, a good one. From the adaptation process, which started in April of this year, to the prep work, directing, and helping the shows to run, I have seen growth in myself, in my actors, and in the theatre company as a whole.
Ironic considering the play.
Below is my director’s note for the play, which explores a little of the framework we used in evaluating the characters and stories and the cost of never blooming.
“I want always to be a boy and have fun.” – Peter
“You say that, but I think that is your biggest pretend.” – Wendy
The above are not lines from the play, but rather from the 2003 Universal Pictures film, Peter Pan. That movie made me fall in love with the story of Neverland, because of it’s poignant portrayed of what Peter lost by refusing to grow up.
When I knew we were going to do Peter Pan, I read multiple versions of the play, including the original by J.M. Barrie himself. None of them lived up to the standard that had been given to me by the movie. I made a desperate plea to the owners of the screenplay to see if they would allow me to adapt it for the stage, but I was, not surprisingly, turned down.
The rejection meant that I had to adapt the script on my own, inspired by the themes which the movie had teased out in its version, without copying it.
What stands out to me about the story is not Peter’s fear of growing up, but his selfish refusal to do so. I’m convinced it is not from lack of bravery or courage that Peter Pan remains on Neverland—he has endless adventures to prove his daring. No, Neverland is Peter’s prison because he is too selfish to allow anyone to have a claim on his life.
And he suffers for it.
J.M. Barrie’s novelization of the play gives us a deeper picture of the cost for Peter’s eternal youth. My goal in my adaptation and direction was to capture both the pain of the characters and the ways they tried to cope. We typically associate Peter Pan with his bravado and confidence, the very things he uses to distract himself from his own heartache.
The question that Peter Pan poses for us is not whether or not we’ll grow up. We know we will. For us, there is no Neverland to stop it. The question is, will we allow fear and selfishness to convince us that self-protection is freedom? Or will we dare to choose the riskier, but infinitely better, option of participating in deep and meaningful community?