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Where childishness is encouraged

AJ Bidel will fly into Neverland at the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge. Peter Pan opens November 20.[Submitted]
AJ Bidel will fly into Neverland at the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge. Peter Pan opens November 20. [Submitted]

Peter Pan takes flight in Drayton Entertainment’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s well-travelled tale of Neverland

By his very nature, Peter Pan is not introspective. Perpetually a child, living in a land where kids need never leave behind childish things, he exists forever in the moment, and never considers the ramifications for his lifestyle. Given that it is the job of an actor to investigate a character from every angle, where does one take cues for this most straightforward of literary heroes?

“One of the best parts of playing Peter Pan, especially in this version, is you are surrounded by kids,” says AJ Bidel, star of Peter Pan, Drayton Entertainment’s new production of the J.M. Barrie classic.

“What’s great is that I love working with kids, and I’m reminded every day in rehearsal what it’s like: how they think, how they move, how they react to things. It all comes from a very genuine place. As a kid, your immediate reaction to everything is pure. You don’t overthink everything. Being surrounded by that is exactly what I need.”

Given how pure and uncomplicated Peter Pan is, what is there for an actor to latch onto?

“I think that the core of Peter Pan – that little boy who doesn’t want to grow up – is at the heart of everyone, and especially myself,” she replies.

“Clinging on to that, and just being that little boy who doesn’t want to grow up, and then letting my type of Peter Pan come out – which is a female version, and a goofier version, a very playful version. That’ll come out no matter what. But making sure that you have the heart of that little boy who doesn’t want to grow up, and that leader instinct, is really important.”

J.M. Barrie was a conventional English dramatist before 1904, when his relationship with the children of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies compelled him to explore the concept of childhood innocence, in a play designed for children and their families. Barrie’s play, and subsequent 1911 novel adaptation, launched an ongoing Peter Pan cottage industry, from Mary Martin to Walt Disney to Steven Spielberg and beyond. The character’s many incarnations cast a long shadow.

“I made myself very familiar with the Mary Martin version, which I think introduced the world to a female playing the character,” says Bidel. “I also looked at the Cathy Rigby version – she’s an Olympic gymnast, and I think she did a fantastic job as well. I also looked back on as many movies as I possibly could.”

What did this research reveal? “At the end of the day, I’m a different Peter Pan,” she says. “I’m not an intense gymnast like Cathy Rigby, so I have to work with what I’ve got. I think what we have with the show will be equally entertaining.”

The many interpretations to the character can be radically different, but what unites them is not only the eternal youth of Peter, but also the intensity of the world that Barrie evoked.

“I think there’s something about it,” says Bidel of Neverland. “The story of Peter Pan is unlike any other. It’s this made-up world of Never-Neverland where nobody can ever grow up, and that’s so magical to people, and so wonderful to people, and so unlike any other childhood tale. It has that special element of being a kid forever.”

She continues, “This is such a fun show. I get to go out onstage and fly and sing and dance and have fun…”

Well, that leads to a more pertinent question: What’s it like to fly?

“I haven’t started to fly yet,” she says. “I’m not afraid of heights, which is a good thing … I’ve heard that it’s a bit of a tricky thing, so I’m hoping I can pick it up pretty quickly.

“But I think it’s one of those opportunities that not a lot of people get. Not a lot of people get to fly around onstage in a Peter Pan costume.”

Drayton Entertainment’s Peter Pan: a Pantomime runs November 20 to December 22 at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge. Tickets are $20-$40, and can be purchased at www.draytonentertainment.com, or by calling 1-855-372-9866.

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