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Never say Neverland: Players perform with pandemic behind them

Zach Spindler-Krage
Sophie Youngdahl `24 with a crown of peacock feathers performs with the Neverland Players.

A band named Dinosaur Crunch, a psychic stone made of a pink shower scrunchie and a pirate hat crafted from a page of the Grinnell Herald-Register were all featured in the Neverland Players’ recent performances. The Players, who adapt stories written by children from Grinnell into live shows for the community, have a long-standing history in the College — one which the group has actively worked to preserve. 

This semester’s shows, performed from March 1-3, featured 10 short stories. Eight of these were shorter skits, separate from one another, and the last two were combined into one “epic,” traditionally the longest performance of the night. 

Levi McMillan `27 peers through the curtains to an audience eager to hear stories written by local Grinnell children. (Zach Spindler-Krage)

The epic from this recent performance told the story of a documentary crew made of pirates being chased by a kraken. Audible gasps could be heard on opening night after one character’s declaration that the “Kraken’s gonna sink our ship!” Fortunately, the Kraken — played by Michael Lozada `24 — is revealed to be a misunderstood soul, and the pirates welcome them with open arms. 

Traditionally, the epic features renditions of popular songs. One such song, originally “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, was retitled “Tainted Teeth,” telling the story of a turtle who has not brushed their teeth since 2002, played by Maya Albanese `26. 

Maya Albanese `26 sings into a toothbrush, an essential prop from the Neverland Players show. (Zach Spindler-Krage)

These musical renditions are not new, and they can be traced back to the first record of the Neverland Players’ existence. In an archived S&B article from Oct. 1, 2004, which featured descriptions of catchy musical numbers, a minimal set consisting of “a colorful patchwork curtain,” and according to group founder Kat Henry `06, “an appreciation for childhood nostalgia and the ability to be silly.” 

Nearly two decades later, the set still features a patchwork curtain. Maggie Morris `26, co-director of this semester’s show, said that silliness is still a value of the current group, in addition to inclusivity. 

“We have cast bonding, like dinners, and have after-hour parties after the shows, so we really try to facilitate a really kind, welcoming, ‘we’re all working together’ space,” Morris said. “We also give them [cast members] as much freedom as we can with creating the show.” 

Lyn Guinto `25.5, the other co-director of the Players this semester, said this environment stems from previous efforts to preserve group culture after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their performances for a year. When students returned to campus, Sophia Youngdahl `24 was the only remaining member who understood how the group worked pre-pandemic. 

Sophie Youngdahl `24, leaves in hair, shows tearful emotion while performing with the Neverland Players. (Zach Spindler-Krage)

“They [Youngdahl] started directing Neverland after the pandemic,” Guinto said. “They made sure it was intentional for Neverland to be as little social pressure as possible so that it could be a welcoming and safe space for people who want to do really nice things for kids and make their stories.” 

The semester Youngdahl returned to campus, the Neverland Players “had a show on a giant wagon outside, like a giant theater wagon, so that we didn’t have to wear masks while performing,” Youngdahl said. 

“Neverland is a lot about passing on knowledge from past shows. I had to be the one to bring the institutional memory forward,” said Youngdahl

“The Players were actually on my radar long before I set foot on campus,” said Redd Cortés `27, who is new to the group this semester. “I auditioned fall semester but didn’t get in, and then when they were doing auditions this semester, it happened to be right next door to my theater class exactly at the time that I got out.”

[Youngdahl] made sure it was intentional for Neverland to be as little social pressure as possible so that it could be a welcoming and safe space for people who want to do really nice things for kids and make their stories.

— Lyn Guinto `25.5

Helenipa Stephens `27, also new to the group this semester, said their favorite part of being in the Players was “the community, and just being able to be funny and goofy with other people.” They also said that they like kids, whose stories are an integral part of the Players’ performance. 

Guinto and Morris said they work with the Studio 6 after-school arts program, which is run by the Grinnell Area Arts Council, and LINK Grinnell to find children willing to write stories for the performances. Adults working at LINK record the stories and pass them along to the Players, whereas members of the Players visit the Arts Council. 

“We’ll walk in, we get set aside into a room and have the kids that have a story they want to write come up to one of the Players and tell us the story, or they can grab a piece of paper and write it themselves,” said Guinto. 

Often, the young authors will be present in the audience during the shows. Gwen, Artie and Nora, who age from six to eight years old, were all in the audience on opening night and were invited to take a bow at its conclusion with the cast. 

Guinto and Morris both said they appreciate that Neverland connects Grinnell students with the town. 

According to Guinto, Neverland “is so magical,” because College students are able to reminisce about their youth while creating stories to make a child happy. 

“But also, it’s just a really safe space for not only the community to engage with the College, but for College students to engage with their inner child and the rest of the community,” they said.

From top: Andrew Ruger `26, Alyce Tanner `26 and Delilah Shapiro `26 stack on top of each other in classic Neverland Player-style tie-dye shirts. (Zach Spindler-Krage)
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About the Contributors
Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans, Opinions Editor
Sarah is a second year from Massachusetts studying political science and English. She adores Snoopy, Allison Ponthier’s music and fried pickles. The real reason she came to Grinnell was for the sunsets.
Zach Spindler-Krage
Zach Spindler-Krage, News Editor
Zach Spindler-Krage is a third-year political science major and policy studies concentrator. He is from Rochester, Minnesota and has an unbelievable amount of state pride. Zach spends his time hiking, playing and listening to music, trying to submit op-eds for every class writing assignment, and wishing he was in Minnesota.
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