Forever Young: Downstage Left offers minimalist take on Peter Pan

Gigi Roelant, photos by Andrea Paulseth

YOU’RE A CROOK, CAPTAIN HOOK! A rehearsal for Downstage Left’s stripped-down production of Peter Pan, which runs later this month at The State Theatre.
YOU’RE A CROOK, CAPTAIN HOOK! A rehearsal for Downstage Left’s stripped-down production of Peter Pan, which runs later this month at The State Theatre.

Downstage Left and director Jake Lindgren implore you to remember your youthful days of make-believe: When a single prop could build a character or set a scene; when a trunk of old clothes and junk could be an endless well of possibilities. It’s time to set your sights on Neverland because Peter Pan is coming to Eau Claire. Lindgren doesn’t need much for the intriguingly minimalist upcoming production: 10 actors, seven steam trunks, and one unforgettable story. Inspiration struck Lindgren this past summer as he was rewatching one of his favorite movies, Finding Neverland

“There’s this scene; I never really paid much attention to it before, never put much thought into the dialogue when they have to mount the entire production in someone’s living room. One of the children says, ‘Much of it will have to be imagined,’ and J.M. Barrie (the creator of Peter Pan) replied, ‘As it should be.’ ”

“Even though you have to grow up ... you don’t have to become stuffy and boring. Keep your head in the clouds a little bit. Keep dreaming.” – director Jake Lindgren on the message behind Peter Pan

Lindgren was surprised to realize that this core message of the play had been lost in many of its incarnations. A story about the power of make-believe had stopped asking its audience to do just that.

“Over the course of the 65 years since the musical has been out, what’s really gotten in the way of the story is the production value of the show. Everyone now automatically assumes that there’s going to be green tights and flying and glitter and giant ice capades and a bunch of spectacle,” Lindgren said. “I think that takes away from the story. So I’m very excited to get back to basics and focus on the text and the messages.”

But there are more distinctions to Downstage Left’s Peter Pan than just the removal of window dressings, he explains: “The show is inherently funny in the way it’s written, the dialogue and how it’s set up. But I think over the years a lot of the depth and heart and seriousness have been removed. ... I hope the audience will see that weight, feel that emotion, and go on a journey with us.”

Although Lindgren had his vision for the production from the beginning, he said it’s been much more of an ensemble effort than most plays. Like kids playing dress-up, everyone worked together to bring to life each character and scene. Beyond the actors and their steam trunks, Peter Pan will be uniquely told via an original score written by local composer Landon Profaizer. Profaizer composed the memorable score for Downstage Left’s production last spring, Gruesome Playground Injuries.

Some might worry that an intimate, minimalist production of Peter Pan wouldn’t appeal as much to children, but Lindgren is certain this won’t be the case. “I’m a nanny during the day, all day, and I have nieces and nephews that I’m really close with, and I’m really excited for all of them to come see the show. ... I think a lot of stuff that is geared towards kids these days is watered down. The TV shows underestimate the intellect of kids. So I’m trying to honor that. Kids get it; kids pay attention.”

As for adults, he said, “I want them to walk away being reminded that we all have that kid in us. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it really hit me this fall when I was doing some research. Even with the name of the place, Neverland – it’s a reminder to adults to never land. Even though you have to grow up, that’s inevitable, that’s biological. You don’t have to become stuffy and boring. Keep your head in the clouds a little bit. Keep dreaming.”

On an artistic level, Lindgren hopes this production will help show people of the Chippewa Valley how much creativity and ability this place has to offer. “You don’t have to go to Minneapolis to see this sort of stuff. You don’t have to bring in touring companies. This is here; we have it, so let’s celebrate it.”

Peter Pan • Feb. 16-19, 7:30pm • $15 • ages 8+ • Backstage at the State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St. • (715) 832-2787 • eauclairearts.com

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