Tonight the curtain opens on another spectacular Jenison High School Musical: Peter Pan! Of course, the story of the boy who refuses to grow up, written by J.M. Barrie, is well-known and a ubiquitous part of pop culture. It first hit the Broadway stage in 1954 when it earned its first Tony Awards. JPS Thespian Director, Todd Avery, was thrilled to bring Peter Pan and the Star Catcher this fall as a prequel to this weekend’s big show and he hopes audiences who take in both productions see the subtle connections the shows have to offer.
Of course, the show will feature some fantastic special effects that everyone has come to expect from Peter Pan – flying! According to Mr Avery, “The biggest part of the show is the flying. I have a fantastic “flight crew” of students and alum who have taken on the responsibility to fly their classmates across the stage. The actors who fly, have never done anything like this before and are executing very well while hovering 10 to 20 feet above the stage. We have a series of safety checks, good leadership, and everyone is having fun. There’s plenty of special effects in the show besides the flying. Tinkerbell darts across the stage, interacting with the Darling nursery. We even have a special live appearance of everyone’s favorite fairy that I’ve added to the show. Finally, the talent level of this great group of kids is amazing. Audience members will forget they are watching high school students.”
This show features sets, props, and costumes that are entirely handmade by student teams, each assisted by an adult leader. The professional quality is a testament to many hard and long hours of work in the scene shop and costume shop.
Students grow in their confidence, abilities, and leadership qualities throughout the show preparation and production. Students with special needs are involved in the show and fellow students rally around them for support, unprompted by Mr. Avery or other adults. “Probably the most amazing growth I’ve encountered is in our Peter Pan, junior Ashley Postema. Her freshman year, Ashley worked with her mother, board member, Jen Postema on our scenery for Oklahoma. I saw her in the shop every day and her work was beautiful. Ashley is an accomplished artist with several entries appearing in galleries around West Michigan. She barely spoke to me and was a very shy young lady. Now, here she is laughing and joking with me and has the title role in the show! I’ve seen this happen again and again with various students over the years.”
Of course, each time a production is featured we hear from students that the theatre community is welcoming, open, and feels like a family. Mr. Avery works hard to set the tone for students but they take the reigns and welcome each other. “Since the beginning, I have stressed the collaborative elements of theatre. Everyone is welcome here, no exceptions. I’m proud to say that over the years we’ve had representatives from every social group at Jenison High School either onstage or backstage. Mutual respect is also important. No matter how stressful things become, we all must do our best to listen and respect each other. We continually build each other up. It is amazing how a simple “thank you” or “good job” can change someone’s day. My biggest joy is hearing about students within our program bringing in other kids to the program because it is a safe place where they can be themselves, have support and have fun.”
Amazingly, the benefits and strengths of students participating in theatre don’t stop when the curtain goes up. A 2012 study by Americans for the Arts shows that students with four years of high school theatre arts, visual art, and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one half year or less. “There are dozens of studies like this one that prove that students involved in the arts gain problem-solving skills, self-confidence, a sense of belonging, speaking and organizational skills, as well as many other benefits. There are several studies showing that employers like to have theatre majors working for them because they are creative problem solvers who work well in groups and are confident in interpersonal interactions.”
This weekend, take some time to enjoy the talents, hard work, and community of the Jenison Thespians! They will inspire you and bring some magic while they’re at it. And of course, remember that “Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional. Too many people lose touch with their inner child and forget how to have fun once they “grow up.” They don’t take the time to look at the world through the eyes of a young person. Of course, there are benefits to growing up, but when life is taken too seriously, something is being missed or sacrificed. Play with your children. Fight for your right to never grow up.”