- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

Home-schooling

I have been directing a musical production of “Peter Pan” for the past few months, with two casts totaling nearly 100 performers ages 7 to 17. Three times a week, these young people come to rehearsals and learn the staging, songs and choreography of the classic James M. Barrie play.

Several home-schooling families are involved in this production, including choreographer Jeannine Ward’s four children. Families who educate children at home seem to have a natural affinity for community performing arts.

Musical theater productions teach many skills: reading, vocabulary, memorization, oral recitation, music, movement, visual composition and timing. They also involve virtually every type of learning: Visual, kinesthetic, audial and linear learning are incorporated in any musical theater production. The children also learn about the history of the play and its context. Some of these children have learned pages and pages of dialogue, and all of them have learned entrances and exits that would make an air traffic controller dizzy.

What’s nice about a youth production of “Peter Pan” is that it is much more genuine, much truer to the original intent of the author than having an adult woman play a little boy who won’t grow up.

When Barrie wrote the play in 1904, he was inspired by the children of his friends Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn-Davies. Two of the main characters’ names came from those children: Peter and Michael. The girl Wendy was inspired by another little girl he knew, who called him “my friendy,” but she pronounced the “r” sound as a “w,” making it “fwiendy.”

In the play, Peter Pan is a boy who left home to live with magical creatures because he wanted never to grow up. He consorts with fairies, captains a troop of Lost Boys and fights pirates and Indians in amazing adventures. He is drawn, however, to the windows of the Darling family’s nursery, longing for the stories and tender care he sees there.

He invites the three Darling children to fly with him to Neverland, and they do, leaving behind a very sad household. In Neverland, their great adventures culminate with a showdown with the pirates and the unforgettable Captain Hook, after which they fly home with all the Lost Boys, who are adopted by the Darlings. Peter, however, stays in Neverland, returning only now and then to have Wendy come do his spring cleaning.

There is no doubt that Barrie loved children; he not only adopted the Llewelyn-Davies children when both of their parents died, but he also assigned the copyright and royalties for the play to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, where it continues to produce income for care, research and social programs for children.

“Peter Pan” is being produced by the Cheverly Young Actors’ Guild, which has been providing youths with the opportunity to learn theater skills for 11 years. Over the course of three to four months, the cast members are taught stage and musical skills by a professional staff. The guild has arranged for ZFX, the company that does the “flying” work for the Broadway production, to create the magical flying scenes that impress young and old audience members alike. Also, a live orchestra, conducted by musical director Daniel Spruill, will accompany the youthful cast. The costume designer is Dougie Gowin, whose work is known and used by Six Flags and many theatrical companies.

Past CYAG productions have won praise for their professional production values as well as the youths’ performances. Although the daytime performances for schools are sold out, tickets for 7:30 p.m. performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are available, as well as the 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The closing-night performance will be at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

For tickets, call the Publick Playhouse, 301/277-1710. Prices are $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and students, and $8 for children younger than 12. For more information on the play or CYAG, call Joani Horchler at 301/773-9671.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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