Dragons and Pirates and Bullies, Oh, My!

By on 26 May, 2017 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bullies. We all have had experiences with bullies in our lives at one time or another: the “bully” character we all knew in school, older siblings picking on us, or maybe difficult or cruel bosses or authority figures. Most of the stories ever told feature a bully, and likewise we are given a hero who must stand up for the good guys everywhere. Protagonist versus antagonist is one of the major elements in telling a story. David takes on Goliath. Frodo and the hobbits go on a quest to stop Sauron. Peter Pan and the lost boys must defeat Captain Hook and his pirates.

As actors, we learn that when you are cast as the “villain”, your first job is to stop thinking of your character as a bad guy. The actor playing Iago in Othello or Richard the Third cannot judge him, but instead must look at the world from his perspective. Why does he do such horrible things? How does he justify his actions? What are his human qualities, his fears, his dreams? In Peter Pan, Captain Hook shares with the audience his feelings of being disliked and his sadness that no one understands him. He compares himself to the beloved Peter, the “popular kid”, and laments that Peter is the cause of his own isolation. In life, as in theater, we must try to understand those who mistreat us in order to truly learn and grow ourselves. As Harper Lee famously wrote, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” To me, this is the very basis of acting and one of the biggest reasons people need to experience art.

Originally, Captain Hook wasn’t even a character in the story of Peter Pan! Peter was considered wild and mischievous enough to create his own havoc and so a larger villain was considered unnecessary. Imagine that! Peter was the antagonist! Ideas like that make you look at the story in a new way. In mythology, Pan was a Greek god who had the legs of a goat and played the flute. He was a god of nature, hunting, woodlands, and the wild. He could transform himself and was known for his rascally and shrewd behavior. The similarities between this Greek god and the cherished character of Peter Pan are clear, but Peter’s wildness also reminds us about the energetic and adventurous bravery of childhood and imagination. So, once this youthful Captain of the Lost Boys is faced off against another larger than life captain with seeming malicious intent, he becomes heroic in our eyes.

The next play at the Cloverdale Playhouse will be J.M. Barrie’s beloved play Peter Pan. Our Youth Acting Company is taking to the stage as part of our main season this year! Child and adult actors will come together to tell the most beautiful story about never growing up. The spirit of play and imagination and adventure is so strong in the building already! Watching the kids at auditions was inspiring. The older kids were so encouraging of the younger ones: running lines together, helping them get over their nerves, applauding each other, and making each other feel welcome.

Exposure to the arts is so important for all children, but there is also an incredible benefit to being a part of the theater at a young age. For many kids, finding a place to be creative and explore their talents with other children who share their interests is so essential. As a young girl (and as an adult) I’ve had my fair share of experience with bullies. As a kid, I was scrawny and artsy and didn’t find the same things interesting as the other kids in my classes. It wasn’t until I found my place among other kids in the theater that I made lifelong friends, found that I wasn’t odd or alone, and really became who I am today. It is such a pleasure to be able to help create that opportunity for other children (and those young at heart), and my spirit soars every time I see our Youth Ambassadors having such fun together, making their own lifelong friendships, forming their own community, and growing into a new generation of artists. This is going to be such a wonderful summer at the Playhouse! We hope you will come and play with us!

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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