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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Review: Neverland Players bring imagination to the stage

The spring 2022 cast of the Neverland Players. Photo contributed by Evie Caperton.

Students returned to Neverland the weekend of March 4, where donning a party hat can transform a college student into a pony with aspirations of being a unicorn or a Ticonderoga #2 pencil with mysterious powers. Our hosts? The Neverland Players, Grinnell’s student-run theater group that adapts the stories of local children into relentlessly creative skits.

Last weekend saw the run of spring 2022’s production, a show that included the works of 14 young authors from around the Grinnell community. Led by directors Katelyn Mehlhaus `22 and Sophia Youngdahl `24, the cast, accompanied by Kaitlyn Ryan `22 on piano, brought these stories to life in the Wall Performance Lab.

At the beginning of each semester, the Neverland team collaborates with the Grinnell Area Arts Council, nearby preschools and pre-kindergarten programs, helping students develop and draft stories in workshops.

After collecting stories, the directors organize the cast into performance groups for each piece. From there, the actors read through the story together before workshopping various possibilities for how it could be performed on stage.

 This phase offers the cast the chance to improvise, take risks and explore different possibilities for the sketch before cementing its structure.

The actors might choose to present the story “straight” — that is, directly as written — or use the narrative as a jumping-off point for an imaginative jaunt into the world created by the author, imagining new contexts, characters, and conflicts, said Evie Caperton `25.

For example, in “The Little Horse Who Was Lonely,” a story about a lost pony, Luke McCann `25, Clare Roarty `22, Ori Shaham `24 and Josh Turner `22 developed their own framing of the story by placing author Gwen Lakose’s saga within a spoof on a CLS appointment about finding one’s vocation, drawing peals of laughter from the students in the audience.

Despite the youth of its authors, Neverland’s productions have a multigenerational appeal. The performers’ energy is infectious, and the audience — which included everyone from toddlers to college students to senior citizens — was howling with laughter within minutes of the opening number.

The cast has a remarkable dexterity, tumbling across the stage, leaping into the air and employing no fewer than six distinct accents during the 90-minute performance. This semester, the show included 10 short skits and a 15-minute musical performance featuring parodies of Billy Joel, NSYNC and Owl City’s greatest hits, sending the audience into stitches.

Consistently, however, the creativity of young authors is kept at the forefront: the actors announce the author of each story before launching into the skit and welcome them up for a bow at the show’s conclusion. Leaving the theatre, I was most touched by the evening’s celebration of youthful creativity and imagination.

“We value kids’ imaginations and take their writing seriously, in a way that I’ve never experienced before,” said Roarty.

As a graduating senior, Roarty took her final Neverland bow last weekend, but she will carry the spirit and values of her time with the group into the future.

“Wherever I go, I’m going to take this sense of profound trust in kids with me.”

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