Between August 16 and 24, Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) presented Peter Pan at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center. Featuring its ever-youthful namesake, along with other well-known characters created by Scottish playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, the elaborately staged musical came to life for eight evening performances and two matinées under the direction of ITW vice president Kevin Ryan.
One of the many notable aspects of the production was a stage set with scenic elements fashioned by Brad Austin and the set crew. The remarkable set pieces included a forest, a ship’s deck with rigged mast, and gigantic window.
“I requested Brad design a functional window that would magically open and close with the music cues and that would be as large as the theater would allow,” Mr. Ryan said. “His words to me in a production memo were ‘be careful what you wish for.’ He delivered a stunning 14-foot-plus towering multi-pane window with Palladian top. Brad, along with set consultant Steve Zablotny, rigged it to open and close on a silent system of hidden lines and pulleys.”
In order to achieve the illusion of supernatural flight, ITW tapped Kentucky-based ZFX, a flying effects company that specializes in stage productions. The rig and harnesses they provided are something of a trade secret and not allowed to be photographed from certain angles.
“The rig was originally installed under the instruction and direction of ZFX representative Russ Morgan,” Mr. Ryan said. “Russ trained our fly operator crew prior to his departure for his next location and show. Assembled, it spans more than 40 feet across, is suspended 25 feet above the stage, and weighs in at close to 1,000 pounds. When dismantled, it is confined to a two- by four-foot wood and steel crate.”
In true ITW spirit, close to all of the cast and crew of Peter Pan were volunteers, many of them children. “I found a huge sense of community volunteering and having a child in the production,” said Kristin Mathias, who helped with tickets and concessions. “Everyone accepted everyone with open arms. As someone helping and offering to volunteer, the sense of thanks was overwhelming. The entire ITW family was wonderful to my son. They were caring, understanding, and always happy to see him. This, as a mom, was important. He was always happy to be there and made many new friends and met so many people that he looked up to.”
Zach Mathias, Ms. Mathias’s son, a third-grader at the Oak Bluffs School who played Nibs, summed up his experience working on the play: “I loved being in Peter Pan! It was a lot of fun and it was great to see so many people back from being in the Wizard of Oz last year. I have made some great new friends even though many of them are older than me. And I can’t wait to see what Kevin decides to do next year. I love to act and be on stage. As well as play sports.”
There was a surprise during the performance on Thursday, August 21. At approximately 7 pm, Kevin Ryan “advised the crew to hold the curtain, but without further details,” said volunteer and ITW board member Connie McCreery. That’s when Dukes County deputy sheriff Nate Vieira walked out on stage and trumped Peter Pan himself by proposing to Wendy [played by Katie Feeks].
“People in the audience were crying with happiness,” ITW president Stephanie Burke said.
ITW and the cast and crew of Peter Pan dedicated the musical to the late Clark Maffitt, a longtime friend of ITW as well as a performer who died in June. “He was a wonderful man with a terrific sense of humor and a terrific storyteller. We were really sorry to lose him,” said Lee Fierro, a creative, driving force behind ITW for four decades.
Emphasizing the indispensable foundation that volunteers provide, Mr. Ryan said that families especially make critical, and often unsung, contributions to productions like Peter Pan.
“The community theater company exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism,” he said. “I am so very proud of not only the Island Theatre Workshop organization, but each and every one of the individuals involved, along with their families. It is no small feat to transport children to and from rehearsals, often in different locations, at many late hours throughout what is about a nine-week process, while juggling other kids and family summer schedules. These families are committed to daily email communication and hands-on involvement at all times. Several of the parents in this production worked backstage as well as in the front of the house. Every night it is dressing, make-up, staging, assisting with others who might be in need of help. This is what the public never gets to see, and it is every bit as important as what is happening on stage during the performances. We love our cast parents and family members and could never do a show such as Peter Pan without them.”