Stow Yer Cargo, Start Yer Play: A Closer Look at Peter and the Starcatcher
Joseph McAlonan, a longtime friend and classmate of mine, is a senior majoring in Musical Theatre. He has been heavily involved in the Musical Theatre and Drama Departments’ productions over his time at CUA and is taking on his first directorial project this semester with CenterStage. Although not his first involvement with CenterStage (he’s held the role of Master Carpenter for several years and performed in a couple productions), this is his directorial debut with the company.
The production he’s undertaken, Peter and the Starcatcher, is based on the 2004 novel Peter and the Starcatchers by David Barry and Ridley Pearson. This play with music tells the origin story of beloved classic character, Peter Pan. Loaded with pirates, Monty-Python-esque comedy, and whole lot of heart, it’s not hard to find the appeal in this Tony-award winning play.
Exhausted from the physical nature of rehearsal but beaming with pride at the progress he and his actors made earlier that day, Joe plopped down on my couch, ready to talk about this exciting and fantastical project.
M: So, this is your first time directing a show with CenterStage. Why did you decide to direct this show? What made you want to step into this position?
J: It was my goal when I came to college to do every kind of thing you can do for a show, so I fully understood could fully understand the process. I’ve taken jobs to help me understand the logistical planning and the technical aspects of theatre, as well as cultivating my performance skills. The only position left was taking on the other side of the table as a director.
I’ve always had a large amount of respect for the position of director. Throughout my time in college, I’ve been in so many shows, worked with so many directors, and been able to see how they work with their actors and creative team. I wanted to pull from all my different experiences to create my own personal directing style.
M: Anyone familiar with the original production of Peter and the Starcatcher also knows the cast is traditionally heavily male, but I know from your casting that there are a lot more women involved. How and why did you make that decision?
J: I don’t know if you know this, but the original production actually had a dramaturgical reason for the cast being all men except for Molly. Anyone who had power during the time of the play was a man, except for Queen Victoria. She was this one powerful woman amongst these men, much like Molly is the sole female presence in the man’s world of the show.
However, when we got to casting, it wasn’t as much about gender for me. This show is very ensemble based, and I was looking for who could give me the most characters and diversity of energy.
M: This show is also definitely one that allows for a lot of flexibility in aesthetic and presentation. Without giving too much away, can you describe the direction you’re taking it?
J: We’re going for something very pop-up book style. There are a lot of clear and concise moments, a lot of tableaus, and contrast between moments of motion and stillness to create pictures onstage. A lot of that is being worked into the set design—we’re using the Lab Theatre in Hartke and we have a lot of amazing ideas of how to use the space. The goal is to make the whole place feel like a magical storybook.
This story is the origin of Peter Pan and all the characters in his world. As the story goes on, I want people to have those “Oh my God, that’s what’s happening! That’s who that is!” moments that I had while reading the play the first time.
M: What’s one thing you want audiences walking away from this production from?
J: Every generation is trying to figure out who they are in the world, and often times people feel like they don’t belong. This show is about taking your world circumstances and building from them; it’s about turning your weaknesses into your stability and strength. Peter Pan, in this story, was mocked. He was weak, and people made fun of him, but he took his tragedy and made it his weapon.
That can be said about the show too—nothing in the show is super inherent. It’s open to so much interpretation by the director and cast. It’s allowing me to find my uniqueness as a first-time director and allows me to have freedom in developing my style.
Peter and the Starcatcher goes up November 22nd-24th in the Lab Theatre in Hartke. Keep checking CenterStage’s website and social media for updates on the show!