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'Peter Pan' comes to life in Wilbraham

Captain Hook (Kevin Bechard of Chicopee) and Peter Pan (Lindsay Paige Adkins of Wilbraham) practice a scene while having publicity photos taken at a pirate ship feature at Six Flags New England in Agawam. Reminder submitted photo
By Jennifer Sawyer


WILBRAHAM This fall, Peter Pan is coming to Wilbraham.

The famous green-clad dreamer who'll never grow up will fly to the stage of Wilbraham Middle School for a weekend of the musical show on Sept. 8, 9, and 10. The special full-scale performance will mark the tenth anniversary of Wilbraham Summer Youth Theatre.

Founded in 1997 by friends Kyle Renkins and Deb Trimble, the Wilbraham Summer Youth Theatre is a 12-week program of workshops and activities for local youth. Participants learn the skills and techniques of musical theatre through various workshops, but balance out their efforts with summer camp-like experiences such as field trips, pool parties, and talent shows.

Members begin the program with an audition, and receive casting decisions in a gold-sealed envelope on the company casting night. Starting in mid-June, the company sets to work with a series of rehearsals leading up to the annual musical in September.

"We wanted to start a theatre program that gives children the opportunity to perform a large scale musical and learn acting skills together," Renkins said.

With a history of acting with the Wilbraham United Players and the Exit 7 players, Renkins has experience under her belt. Teaming up with Trimble, who holds a degree in vocal performance, the duo has a good handle on theatrical performances.

Renkins and Trimble alternate the responsibilities of directing each year, with Renkins responsibility falling on this year's special anniversary performance.

"I knew since the beginning that we had to do 'Peter Pan.' It's much more complex than what we usually do, and we knew the time had to be right so we could make it work," Renkins explained. "It's great fun and appeals to a huge audience."

This year, for the first time in the group's 10 year history, the children involved in the summer program will unite with adult theatre veterans from the Wilbraham United Players. This year marks a special accomplishment for the Players as well, who are celebrating an anniversary of their own: 50 years of shows.

"The kids were a little nervous about it at first, but after a few rehearsals they began to see the reasoning behind having adult actors play certain parts. It's so wonderful to see them working together," Renkins said.

This year's cast includes all of the 62 program participants. The 10-18-year-old performers come from throughout the region.

The program is so popular that it enjoys a 90 percent return rate among its participants. Currently, the program consists of rehearsals averaging about three times a week, with intensity levels increasing leading up to the big fall show.

"Because the program is such a time commitment, we wanted [the participants] to have a camaraderie, a family, and make it more than just about the show," Renkins explained. "We have a sharing night when we invite family to see students' work, march in the Peach Festival, and are taking a field trip to see 'Tarzan' on Broadway together."

Public Relations Director Nina Berman added, "The program combines a summer experience with the excitement of a theatre company. Besides just teaching theatre skills, it builds confidence and community."

The stage musical version of "Peter Pan" was written by J.M. Barrie, and still used the majority of the original dialogue. In 1929, Barrie gave the copyrights for "Peter Pan" to the Great Ormond St. Hospital in London. Therefore, the children's charity receives a portion of royalties every time the play is performed.

This performance will be no different, as future performances of "Peter Pan" will continue to support those in need, as per the strict orders of Barrie himself.

The Wilbraham Summer Youth Theatre is especially grateful to its sponsor, American Saw and Mfg. Company of East Longmeadow.

The financial support of the company allowed the young participants to work with "Flying by Foy," the originators of choreographed theatrical flying sequences. Foy Inventerprises Inc. is best known for first creating flying effects for the 1950 Broadway version of "Peter Pan," and the 1954 musical version of the show starring Mary Martin.

"The kids are just so excited. Right now, we're in our tenth week of rehearsal," Renkins added. "Though there's a lot of pressure on them, they're starting to see the big picture."

And for Renkins, there is nothing more rewarding then seeing the progress of the young performers.

"They are young professionals and very accomplished actors," she said.

Those interested in purchasing tickets may do so by calling the Box Office Manager Jane Stenning at 599-1870. Tickets for adults are $12, and tickets for children under 18 are $7.