Act I: When our local community theatre company announced their fall show auditions and “Peter Pan” was announced, there was a certain expectation, an order to things that was silently agreed upon, at least among the child actors. There was a boy known to all who would play Peter Pan, there was a boy who would play Hook, there were a couple of strong contenders for Wendy…and it was going to be a fight to the death for Tinkerbell.
Our summer was spent witnessing our 11-year old try to transform herself into Tinkerbell (the Disney version). Lemon in her hair every day all summer should do the trick, right? Forget voice lessons and audition songs, Tinkerbell didn’t SING, she just needed to be blonde. One major motivation for the role choice was the fact that an 11-year-old romance was brewing with the boy who was to be Peter Pan. This boy, she learned, had a lifelong dream of playing Peter Pan. It was his favorite character, he already owned the costume, he wore the hat daily, so Tinkerbell was the coveted role.
At the audition there was the usual, “Who do you want to be?” repeated 50 times, with the usual answer being, “Tinkerbell.” But there could be only one. When our Tinkerbell hopeful got a callback she could see her goal in sight. So when the cast list came out there was shock all around. Tinkerbell was to be played by a girl two years younger with black hair, and Peter Pan was to be played by…yikes. Our girl would be wearing green after all. An extremely awkward congratulatory phone call was made to “Michael.”
Act II: After emotions settled down and roles were accepted (Captain Hook turned out to be a girl) rehearsals started. On our end that meant learning to be a boy: walk like a boy, talk like a boy, and sing like a boy. Not to mention learning songs, lines, harmonies, dances, acrobatics, and, of course, flying.
When we heard there was a professional flying company coming from NYC to oversee the flying we were excited. We had been required to sign forms if we were a parent of Peter, Tink, Wendy, John or Michael that said we would be present backstage to “fly” our own kids during performances. But with this professional crew coming, how much could there be to do? Press a button? Tie off some rope? Iain was the sailor–he could do it. At the first flying rehearsal we met the Flight Director, who impressed us by knowing Peter Pan line for line, but then he dropped the first bomb. Peter Pan and Tink needed two parents to fly them, the rest only needed one. Peter Pan would go back and forth AND up and down in a choreographed routine. Bomb number 2–we would need to learn the entire script to know our cues. And, bomb number three, he would be heading back to NY after the dress rehearsal leaving us to fly our children without him.
Since there was no way I was going to be flying my child, we recruited our strong and careful friend John to be the second parent. My relief lasted, oh, hours, when we found out Wendy’s flying parent had badly broken his foot and her second parent was already knee-deep in designing, sewing and fitting the entire cast in costumes. John heroically stepped up to fly the orphaned Wendy. Which left me screwed.
Just so you know, there are no buttons in flying. Maybe in Cirque de Soleil, but not in this production. There were ropes—heavy ropes hanging down, shoulder-crushing harnesses, and rules, so many safety rules. And there were swords, daggers, and the hook, professional metal props being wielded by children pushing past us in the dark.
And then there was the hurricane. A HURRICANE blew into town shutting down the school, costing us precious hours of flight training time as opening night loomed. I was drinking Rescue Remedy by the shot, thinking of all the ways I could personally blow this show for all, especially my daughter. I silently raged at my circumstances. I was not built or wired for this! They would all soon learn how useless I was.
But I wasn’t useless. I flew Peter Pan and she soared for three days to packed houses, cheers and tears. These kids in their heavy harnesses and heavier swords performed with the joy and stamina that only children can. On the final night, before the final bows, our now 12-year old pulled her dad and me aside. “Can you pull me up a little early before I fly out?” As the cast of fifty kids paraded out for their bows, Peter dangled above us in the dark and I felt a wet drop land on me. On cue, she flew out, sprinkling fairy dust in her wake.
Featured artwork: Sewing on the Shadow, 2016. Pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes black, 13×20 inches