“Peter and the Starcatcher” plays pretend in celebration of theater

UW-Eau Claire’s theater department explores childhood and imagination

Thomas DeLapp

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Photo by SUBMITTED

The show’s poster, designed by recent graduate Alissa Salzwedel.

As the year comes to a close, the UW-Eau Claire theater department is “celebrating the end of a weird two years,” director Arthur Grothe said, with their production of “Peter and the Starcatcher”, a comedy prequel to Peter Pan.  

Set in an attic, the characters of the play — initially — are just a bunch of kids. Then, they begin to pretend, each taking on different characters and imagining the story of Peter Pan before he was Peter Pan.

The set itself is full of random objects that might be found in any attic, which are used as props by their characters. An umbrella can be a sword, a small clip light can be Tinkerbell — it all plays on the idea of a child’s imagination, Grothe said.

When they needed a prop to act as a crate, Grothe said, a paper Menards bag did the trick. 

Zack Cambronne, a fourth-year theater student, plays Black Stache (Captain Hook before he was Captain Hook), and emphasized the concept of “playing pretend,” both in the play and in real life.

“It’s really about this group of people playing pretend,” Cambronne said. “We’re doing what we’ve done for the past two years, creating our own fun and going back to that time of imagination.”

Grothe said the show intentionally celebrates live theater after a challenging two years of either no, or adapted, theater. The play engages with the audience, he said, not afraid to acknowledge the personal connections and magic of theater.  

Maggie Roberts, a third-year comprehensive English langauge arts student, plays Molly (who later becomes the mother of the Darling children in Peter Pan), and  said the freedom and imagination of the play’s characters reflects the hope of coming out of the pandemic.

“With COVID and the past couple years, we’ve felt so much restriction, but with this it’s like we are breaking free, making friends and doing what we want,” Roberts said. “It’s all so sweet and genuine.”

The stage is thrust, with the audience on three sides, allowing the characters more freedom of movement and a closeness with the audience. 

Roberts said one of her favorite aspects of the show was the ability to make eye contact with the audience and pull them into the story. 

“It’s so invigorating,” Roberts said. “You’re in that attic with us, you just might not be playing right away.”

Across the attic-set stage, Roberts and Cambronne said there are easter eggs hidden among the boxes of props and items, with something new to find each time you look — so they encourage coming more than once, and sitting in different places to get new perspectives on the play.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” has a little bit for everybody, Cambronne said. Kids will be able to see themselves on stage: pretending and having fun with their friends. Plus, there are plenty of jokes and references for adults, too. 

While kids themselves might not pick up on everything, Roberts said, the play is all about finding your way back to being a kid. 

“It’s just a huge amount of nostalgia,” she said. “You can go have a nostalgic time for two and a half hours and you don’t have to worry about anything else, and you’re gonna end up laughing.”

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is at the Pablo Center May 4-8 at 7:30, and May 9 at 1:30. 

DeLapp can be reached at [email protected]