ArtsATL > Film > Preview: “Peter Pan,” coming to downtown, fuses film and live theater under a giant tent

Preview: “Peter Pan,” coming to downtown, fuses film and live theater under a giant tent

Workers are expected to raise a 10-story, 1,300-seat tent between the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta starting Saturday, January 9, to house an ambitious new multimedia performance of “Peter Pan.” The show will run January 21 through March 20, and Atlanta is the fourth city to see it, following London, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This “Peter Pan,” a production of threesixty˚entertainment, features 22 live actors in a theater-in-the-round setting, with 360-degree film projections of Edwardian London and Neverland projected throughout the interior of the tent. Tickets run $35-$75, with some discounts for children, and are available at www.peterpantheshow.com or at 1-888-772-6849.

J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” has been adapted countless times, most famously as a Disney animated movie. The British creative team has made several interesting staging decisions, including using adult actors for all the roles (Peter, frequently played by a woman in live theater, is here played by a man). And Tinker Bell is a tough punk fairy who wears a soiled tutu.

Dana Perrault, the show’s U.S. technical adviser, spoke with me by phone to explain how the show works.

Phil Kloer: People may be having a hard time grasping what this show is attempting to do. Can you take a swing at it?

Dana Perrault: It’s an attempt to cross live theater with film — the interaction of the live performers with the video and the way they respond to it is sort of new. The video aspect is all-encompassing. The screen is three times the width of an IMAX screen, so it engulfs you. But with that comes the interesting challenge of trying to keep the focus on the performance. The video is always slightly moving. So if you’re on the pirate ship there’s water [projected] and the water slightly moves, but not enough to draw your focus from the action.

Kloer: People who have seen the show single out the footage of London in 1904 that’s projected inside the tent that the children fly over. Where does that come from?

Perrault: It’s all CGI, all generated in the computer. They spent time capturing the identifiable parts of London: St. Paul’s, the Tower Bridge. It’s not cartoony. It’s pretty seamless. It looks realistic.

Kloer: This story has been told a lot of times. Are there any ways this version differs from the one we are most familiar with?

Perrault: The one people are most familiar with is the Disney approach. This is truer to the actual story. It’s a straight play that has some music in it, but isn’t a musical. For example, Tinker Bell is a character in our show who’s played by an actor. She’s not this cutesy little fairy. She’s described in J.M. Barrie’s script as being so small she can have only one emotion at a time. For instance, when Peter is focusing his attention on Wendy, the only way Tinker Bell can react is with a level of jealousy and anger. People find it a little jarring, because you’re used to this little flying fairy in a pink tutu and then you get there and she’s got a bit of attitude.

Kloer: I’ve read that the production doesn’t try to hide the cables that the actors use to fly, that instead they are incorporated into the show. How does that work?

Perrault: In order to give the flying the versatility and freedom the company was looking for, to be able to spin around, fly up and down, left and right, do somersaults, means we had to have these hangers that come above the actors’ heads. A single cable comes down with the hanger on it, with two cables that attach to the hips. That enables you to spin 180 degrees and do somersaults. What I always learned in theater is if you can’t fix it, feature it. You could spend a lot of time trying to hide these, but you’re never going to be able to hide them completely. So you embrace them. We make them look like clothes hangers, and they kind of fit into the world of the nursery.

That theme goes through the show. The puppets are all created with things you might find in a nursery. For the crocodile, for instance, the teeth are clothespins and the eyes are made out of soccer balls. And Nana the dog is made out of blankets. It’s whimsical, and less realistic to some degree. It makes you wonder if it’s something in the mind of the children.

Kloer: The tent is a really key part of this experience. How hard is that to set up?

Perrault: The tent people set up a portion of the tent, then the show people add some of their part, then the tent people put up more, so they hand it back and forth. We’ll have the better part of the show and tent up in a week. Then there’s a lot of infrastructure to load in, like dressing rooms and offices and showers. It’s about 130 feet from pole to pole. It’s different from most tents because there are no poles on the inside. The whole space is suspended from four outside king poles, and the tent hangs from them. That enables us to do all the CGI and the flying without obstructions. There’s the main tent and then there’s the pavilion tent that has food and drink and merchandise.

Kloer: Ah, yes, merchandise. An important part of an event like this.

Perrault: Really. Do you think you’re not gonna have any fairy wings and foam swords and T-shirts and hats?

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