College Gamers in Windsor Prepared the Fairy Mud for Return to the Stage

The University of Windsor’s University Players are returning to the stage with Tinker Bell, a Patrick Flynn, Based on JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. It all begins tonight at Essex Hall on the University grounds (Nov. 25, 2022) and ends December 4.

When all the fairies in Neverland start dying, Tinker Bell comes to London to find a friend. There she meets a young boy named Peter Pan who has just run away from his family so he can be a little boy forever and have fun. When Tink takes Peter to Neverland, all sorts of wonderful and amazing things happen: flowers grow, animals appear and pirates arrive. But as Peter brings more Lost Boys and the Darling children back to her island, Tink finds she doesn’t like sharing her friend with anyone else. Especially that Wendy girl.

It’s a fresh take on the classic story that always pops up in one form or another around the Christmas season.

Director Lee Wilson has created works in Canada, Ireland, the UK and America and balances his time as a director and teacher. We had the chance to ask Lee about the Windsor adaptation.

Tell me about the story of Tinker Bell.

Tinker Bell is an adaptation of the classic Peter Pan story by JM Barrie. Patrick Flynn’s version looks at the story through Tinker Bell’s eyes and gives us her perspective on Peter Pan. We follow Tinker Bell from before Peter enters their lives, and we discover their longing for friendship and how they impact each other’s lives. It truly is a comment on the importance of friendship and how difficult it can be to find your place in the world without it. It also serves as a reminder that, despite our differences, friendships and love can blossom between those who appear to be an unlikely match. In the end, our similarities when it comes to connection far outweigh everything else. This adaptation will show you a different side of all the classic characters from Peter Pan. Yes, that includes Captain Hook!

What made you want to take on Tinker Bell?

We wanted to offer the students and our audience a classic story to bring them back into the theatre. This is our first live season since 2020, and I was looking for something that would be light and fun. It needed to ignite our acting students’ imaginations again and give our production team freedom in design to create something special. The use of choreography for the flying, brilliant costumes, a visionary projection design for our set, and a spine-tingling soundscape all contribute to making this something special. All of this, and Patrick’s accessible script, gave us a wonderful opportunity to showcase the versatility of the actors that come through our BFA acting program at the School of Dramatic Art. When I read Tinker Bell, it seemed like the perfect show to offer, on so many levels, during this University Players season just before the holidays.

This story is from the perspective of Tinker Bell. How different is it from the Peter Pan story?

It really focuses on Tinker Bell’s point of view. We get to hear Tink comment on all these characters we know from the original story and get a better insight into the fairy world and Neverland.

It paints another backstory that enhances the Peter Pan / Neverland universe. It’s almost like a behind the scenes look at Peter Pan. Does it feel that way?

It absolutely feels that way. We have been able to look at the story with fresh eyes and really ask ourselves, “What is Neverland?” Why was Peter so important to Tink and Wendy? What is it about this Peter that is special, and why does this fairy take to them so quickly? Friendship defies all logic and teaches us so much about ourselves.

What are some of the challenges of bringing this story to life?

We had huge ambitions for this production. We decided our world would be created using projection instead of traditional set design. This was a new frontier for us, and we needed to approach our process much differently because of it. In a way we needed to learn as we went, and our designer, David Court, needed to be part of the rehearsal process from the very beginning. In addition, our costume designer, Esther Van Eek, needed to be aware of how the design could impact the costumes. Our lighting designer, Linas Kairys, had to fill in the rest of the world without impacting projection, and the actors needed to navigate all of this, including a heavy use of sound design by Dave Gauthier. We all worked together to devise a world for which we had no idea how it would all mesh. As a director, I always approach with confidence, knowing I am supporting the actor first and foremost. When you take a big risk with new technology and a new approach to the process, there is always the danger that the actor might be sacrificed to your vision. We are lucky to have students who are willing to take a risk and just go for it. This, I believe, is another testament to the program we have at the University of Windsor. We are lucky to have it.

There are some new projection and design elements. What’s going on there?

Oh, there is so much going on with projection design! We have created all these worlds, almost like a painting. The number of hours spent in the theater and rehearsal hall just playing has been a huge asset to us. David Court and I truly let our imaginations run wild, and we never restricted ourselves to any possibility. We shared ideas and put everything on the table. The great thing about working with real artists, which David Court epitomizes, is they always show you a different perspective and allow your work to grow in a way you never thought possible. Audiences will be amazed by the visual landscape we have been able to achieve in such a short time.

What’s your vision of Neverland for your set?

Neverland is a place where anything is possible. If you truly believe in it, it can and will happen. It is a place of grace and beauty. It is utopia for all creatures.

Peter Pan stories and shows usually pop up for fall and even the Christmas season. What makes this time of year, the best time to stage a show like this?

To me, the holiday season is a special time. It is my favorite time of the year, even though I would rather be on the beach. I think Christmas is a magical time and a time to celebrate family and friends. This is exactly what the story of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell embraces. It is a story that celebrates what it means to be a child, and Christmas is a holiday in which we all work hard for the children. It is a time to believe in the impossible and to dream of what the world can be when we are united in the same spirit of what is important in life: the earth and all life. It is wondrous and a miracle. We need to be reminded of that.

Tell me about the cast and the reasons you selected your main players.

The cast of Tinker Bell is a wonderful mix that represents the school of dramatic art. We are a rich hybrid of programs and talents that complement our production arm, university players. I always say we are a small department, but we are mighty. Tinker Bell is not your typical UP show. We are known for our classical training, but the school is so much more. We offer our students the ability to create new work, motto from scratch, or jump into a Shakespeare play or theater for young audiences at the drop of a hat. Our students can, in many ways, jump into any genre and feel at home. The main players in Tinker Bell are, in my opinion, perfectly cast. We take great pride in our play selection process, which involves choosing plays that perfectly showcase our students. Tinker Bell was chosen specifically for our 4th-year BFA class in tandem with three other plays. Katherine Docherty (Wendy), Kaden Hill (Smee), Justin Mendler (Hook), Annie Roberts (Peter), and Georgie Savoie (Tinker Bell) are perfect in their parts.

From the descriptions of the show, it sounds like Tinker Bell is a little feisty in this one. That could be fun for the cast member.

Georgie (Savoie) has been having a blast taking on Tinker Bell. Tink is described in the play as only being able to play one emotion at a time because they are so small! This has given Georgie the great challenge of honoring the character and script, as well as finding the nuances in acting so it isn’t a one-note performance. Georgie’s talent and commitment to the role have been wonderful to watch. My greatest joy is seeing young actors I have helped train blossom into their processes and create characters of great depth and beauty.

Hopefully Tink doesn’t push the jealousy too far.

Georgie strikes the perfect balance of jealousy, frustration, learning, forgiveness, and love.

Are there some lessons your audiences might learn in this show?

I think the audience will be reminded about what COVID took away from us. It will remind us of all that we need to do to step into overdrive and make up the connections we lost. Maybe we will even pick up the phone and call that old friend who has had an impact on our lives. I know I have.

What are you looking forward to most about directing this one.

I’m most looking forward to reconnecting with a live actor and an audience. The moment the audience is in the theater and the lights start to go down. The excitement of being together once again in a communal space to tell stories. The pride in seeing these young actors use their training and talent to take us on a journey and ignite our imagination. The theater is back, and I am so pumped.

Tickets to Tinker Bell available online at www.universityplayers.com/box-office and range in price from $10 for youths, $21 for seniors and students, and $25 for adults.

Photo: Jess Sanson

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