Preview: ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ takes the stage

Arohi Bhattacharya and Emily Yun

Junior Rebecca Helft, who plays Smee, and senior Ameer Ali, who plays Black Stache, rehearse a heated argument as part of the Palo Alto High School theater program’s spring production “Peter and the Starcatcher.” According to Program Director Sarah Thermond, the play showcases various action-packed events, such as sword-fights, in a magical light. “As for what I’m most excited about, it’s a toss up between some of the cool effects and new props and scenic items we have built just for this show, and then the really physically comedic sequences that we missed while doing virtual theatre,” Thermond said. (Photo: Renee Vetter)

With shipwrecks, sword-fights, and a little bit of pixie dust, students are preparing for the Palo Alto High School theater program’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” throughout the next two weeks, starting 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Performing Arts Center. 

“Peter and the Starcatcher,” the program’s first production of 2022, is an adaption of the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. According to Program Director Sarah Thermond, she was inspired to present the story on the Paly stage after viewing the show on a tour in San Francisco.

“It [the play] is incredibly fast-paced and high energy, and really ambitious in what it’s willing to portray onstage,” Thermond said. “The playwrights didn’t shy away from things that are hard to portray in a live show, like a ship sinking, climbing up and down a mountain, or characters undergoing transformations into fantastical creatures.  It really counts on the creativity of the cast and crew—and the imagination of the audience—to tell the story.”

Sophomore Eloise Dumas, who plays Hawking Clam, agreed about the lively nature of the story and said she feels the lightheartedness is important with the play being one of the first plays back in person after a year of virtual productions. According to Dumas, the larger size of the cast, with nearly 40 people, creates potential to enhance the creative aspects of the show.

“When you have that many cast members, you can kind of play more with groups of people reacting in fun ways on stage, or you can just create really interesting pictures,” Dumas said. “There’s some people who operate a big creature of sorts, and at one point other people use swishy blue fabric to illustrate waves, which is visually super cool.”

According to freshman Anna Van Valkenburg, who plays the Sailor and Pirate Narrator, in addition to the elaborate acting and props, the variety of costumes and makeup add to the uniqueness of the play. Van Valkenburg also said she is eager to see the audience’s response to these characters on opening night.

I’m most looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts to some fun moments that we all thought were super funny during rehearsal,” Van Valkenburg said. “When you’re laughing in the rehearsal process, it’s a good indicator that the audience will enjoy it too.”

Senior Arnav Singhal, who plays Peter Pan, said that one of his biggest challenges will be accurately portraying such a crucial character.

“I’ve always loved using my face to create weird and meaningful expressions,” Singhal said. “Having spent much of my life just staring into a mirror and making faces at myself for fun, branching out and being extremely intentional about using my whole body has been hard.”

According to Thermond, the cast and crew follow the COVID-19 regulations that the school has implemented for classes, doing what the theater program has done for past plays like “The Illusion.” With ‘Peter and the Starcatcher,’ Thermond has also implemented understudies as another precaution.

We have assigned understudies for all roles, who have been taking turns running through scenes in different combinations,” Thermond said. “That way, if we do have any cast members get sick or need to take precautions due to COVID concerns, we’re prepared for the show to continue.”

Thermond said the most exciting part of the play to her is the enchantment that the actors bring to the play, which is what she hopes the audience will like the most.

“The whole style of the show is about using the tools you have and your imagination to create magic onstage,” Thermond said. “That shows up in our actors’ portrayal and our crew’s designs, and I think folks who come check the show out will be happy they did.”

For more information about the play and its showtimes, visit the Paly Theatre website.