GANDER, N.L. – With 25 young actors, a provincial premiere, and extensive music and dance choreography – “Peter and the Starcatcher” was a particularly intense challenge for Beyond the Overpass Youth Theatre.
The Tony Award-winning Broadway play was put together with its large 10-18 year-old cast through six weeks of committed rehearsals. There were three performances last week at the Quality Inn from Thursday, June 7 to Saturday, June 9.
“We wanted to do an extra challenge for kid who were really interested in acting,” said musical director Leslie Hewlett. “It’s the biggest undertaking within our regular teaching year we’ve ever done.”
For one Lewisporte student, it was an especially great challenge. With only one previous performance to her name, 12-year-old Martina Chaffey took the lead role of Peter.
Martina says the news of the title part came as quite a shock.
“I yelled very loudly. I was very ecstatic, but also very confused,” Martina said of her initial reaction. “Especially because I was younger, and I’d only been involved with Beyond for one year so I didn’t have as much experience.
“It was kind of terrifying.”
But with strong guidance from Hewlett and director Jamie Harding and a strong support network from her fellow cast members, Martina says her challenge became much more manageable with time.
“Everyone was helping me and most of the time it felt like all of us were on the same page,” she said. “It was very overwhelming at first, but after a while it just seemed like water under the bridge.”
In a production of such a large cast with both music, dance and a prestigious reputation, Hewlett says many of the cast were at first disconcerted by the task ahead.
“It was scary and the kids were a bit intimidated at first,” she said. “There was so much blocking and choreography involved. There was a time where the kids were thinking ‘could we really do this?’
“But they came together and supported each other and created something beautiful.”
Gander student Kathleen O’Rourke, 13, has been involved with theatre for five years. Kathleen played the role of Molly. “Peter and the Starcatcher” was the biggest production she’s ever been a part of. She says it was a daunting but incredible experience.
“We put our heart and souls into it and it turned out amazing,” Kathleen said. “Now that it’s all over we want to do it all again.”
Hewlett says the three performances earned high praise from the audience with standing ovations. Now that the shows are complete, those involved are feeling both grateful and sad.
“It’s bittersweet to be finished,” Martina said. “It is relieving because of all the work and effort it took to make it possible. But it’s also upsetting because we’re leaving this entire experience behind.”
Hewlett and others at the Beyond the Overpass Youth Theatre are now preparing for the Gander Youth Arts Festival in July. She says the continuing success brought with “Peter and the Starcatcher” is exciting and the beginning of something very special in central Newfoundland.
“It’s a really big show to undertake and it’s very impressive to see their success with it,” Hewlett said. “It definitely made some lifetime memories for those kids.”