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Neverland Players change process, maintain fun

Neverland - Sarah Ruiz
Jonah Zimmerman ’18, Mollie Blahunka ’17 and Hannah Lundberg ’18 get pumped to perform. Photo by Sarah Ruiz.

Keli Vitaioli

The Neverland Players will take the floor again this weekend, March 4 to 6, in the Wall Performance Lab. The ensemble consists of 12 players, the largest cast ever, bringing to life stories from children in the Grinnell community.

Traditionally, the college students have received stories written by Davis Elementary third grade students during their creative writing unit at school. For this show, however, the players worked with the Grinnell Area Arts Council and hosted workshops where they worked with the children as the stories were being written.

“The stories felt even more significant this time around,” said co-director Simone Downs ’17. “Certain actors were working with kids and then performing their stories. It was more of a partnership.”

The performance is open to the community and the audience is often a mix of college students, parents and children. The players juggle staying authentic to the stories while adding bits of humor for the older audience members.

“We have to make a show that is humorous to college kids and also have it so the kids can follow along,” said player Jon Mehlhaus ’19. “We also want the kid in the audience to be able to hear their story come to life.”

The show consists of nine skits ranging from two to five minutes each and culminates in the “epic,” a 15-minute musical skit. This year audience members can look forward to an epic centered around an underwater family of fish-seals in which the father fish-seal is called away on business and then goes missing.

“This semester we took one author’s story and combined three others. A lot of different parts came together and we had to form one coherent storyline. It’s almost a reverse ‘Finding Nemo,’ where the family looks for the dad on a big rescue mission,” Mehlhaus said.

Phoebe Schreckinger ’19, the only new Neverland cast member this semester, looks forward to showing the young authors their finished product.

“I want to see the kids who wrote the stories in the audience,” Schreckinger said. “I’m excited to see their faces light up when their stories are performed.”

The players go into the performance with the goal of validating the children’s creativity. They want to show the kids how imagination can be turned into something tangible.

“We are trying to treat every kid’s story with dignity and respect that kids don’t always get when they create things,” Mehlhaus said.

College students can use the show as an opportunity to take a break from their packed homework schedules. The players hope the show allows audience members to let their minds wander and remember what it was like to imagine something with the mind of a child.

“Neverland was originally started to bring happiness to people,” co-director Lauren Fenton ’17 said. “We want to take in the positivity from these kids and put it back out into the community.”

The Neverland Players will be performing at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, in the Wall Performance Lab in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

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