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Theatre department brings ‘Neverland’ to Troutt Theater

With their upcoming performances, Belmont’s department of theatre and dance is looking to take audiences on an adventure to the stars — second star to the right, to be exact.

Friday marks the department’s debut of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” which will feature high-flying action and enough pixie dust to keep the atmosphere, audience and characters young for the night.

“There was a lot of excitement about starting the season with something this ambitious,” said Director Shawn Knight, who is also an adjunct professor at Belmont and a teacher at the Nashville Children’s Theatre.

Since “Peter Pan” is the department’s first production of the semester, the cast and crew started preparing for it in the summer.

“I think most people have never seen the original ‘Peter Pan,’” Knight said. “Most people who know ‘Peter Pan’ know the Disney cartoon or the musical version, but I think few people have seen the original story on stage.”

Bringing iconic Neverland to life is a challenge the department is meeting with innovation and collaboration.

“It’s been really amazing because, first of all, my designers across the board are phenomenal,” Knight said. “Basically, we’re using everyone in the department. Our movement teacher is doing the fight choreography, our dance teacher is doing the Indian dance choreography and we’re even trying to do some work with the music students. We’ve got an original score, and Peter Pan’s theme was written and recorded by Belmont music students. Their work is just phenomenal.”

The designers drew on medieval inspiration to set the stage — literally — for an unforgettable presentation using the art of quilling, which involves the intricate placement of colorful paper on a wooden backdrop to create a larger-than-life, 3-D effect.

“Quilling is an artwork that is old, as is this tale, and we wanted the world of Neverland to be very distinct from the London nursery, so we looked for options to create that art form,” Knight said.

And, of course, what would Neverland be without a little flying?

“It’s actually not as difficult as it seems,” said Daniel Baumgardner, assistant stage manager and theater education major. “To tell you the truth, you’re just pulling rope. But it’s the magic onstage, you know. It just makes the show. One of the main flights that Peter has, I’m jumping off a ladder back offstage. It’s kind of intimidating at first, but the more you do it, the more you get comfortable with it. And it’s so much fun.”

Remaining true to the original stage version of the show, Belmont’s Peter Pan will be played by a female — Austin Williams, a sophomore theatre performance major.

Williams said she has always loved Peter Pan and he has always been one of her favorite Disney characters.

“Part of me wishes I wasn’t in it and wasn’t a part of it at all, so I could just watch it and engross myself in it,” she said. “But it’s been so much fun to just be a part of it on the other side.”

Williams’ dedication to the performance runs even deeper than her willingness to have her once lower-shoulder-blade-length hair chopped off. She hopes to give the audience something beyond just a memorable stage performance.

“I really hope a lot of children come,” she said. “I really want kids to have a good experience of theater, whether this be their first time, or maybe they go to the theater often. I want them to experience something that they’re not used to.”

For Baumgardner, seeing the product of weeks worth of preparation is what’s most rewarding.

“To see the work come together and really give the show its life is really neat to see,” he said. “That’s really what makes a show — a cohesive chemistry from the cast just makes it so strong.”

Belmont’s performance of “Peter Pan” will run Sept. 27-Oct. 6 in the Troutt Theater. Friday performances will start at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m.

General admission tickets are $10. Faculty, alumni, non-Belmont students and seniors can purchase tickets for $5. And Belmont students can see the performance for free.

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