‘Peter Pan’ returns to Medomak Valley

Never say Neverland

By Dagney C. Ernest | Nov 01, 2017
Photo by: Peach Frederick Medomak Valley’s “Peter Pan” features, seated front, Noah Dean and, standing, Somerset Ganz; from left behind them, Joel Morin, Andrew Beaucage, Ella Grant and Eileen Monroy; and, in back, Wyatt Sykes.

Waldoboro — November is high school musical season in Midcoast Maine, although Waldoboro’s Medomak Valley High School has traditionally jumped the gun. Not this time, though.

“We pushed it as far as we could this year because it’s so huge,” said director Nancy Durgin.

“Peter Pan” is huge, both for its technical requirements and, at Medomak Valley, its historical weight. The school first mounted the show, with full theatrical rigging, under the direction of Rick Ash, years before he became the technical director of Camden Hills Regional High School’s Strom Auditorium.

“I’ve got a big act to follow,” said Durgin a couple of weeks before opening night. “It was 31 years ago, but people are still talking about Rick’s production of ‘Peter Pan!’”

The anniversary edition of the musical, based on J.M. Barrie’s play, will open Thursday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. in the Dolloff Auditorium of MVHS, on Manktown Road. Performances will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 19.

This production will make history for another reason, as it is the last Durgin will direct. The award-winning educator spent decades leading the drama charge for SAD 40’s middle and, since 2011, high schools. She retired from teaching in 2012 and, coming up on a year ago, moved to South Portland. The time has come, she said, for the torch to be passed.

“I’ve loved it, I hate to leave it, but it doesn’t make any sense for me to drive three hours a day for a two-hour rehearsal, as much as I love my kids,” she said.

Over the years, many of her “kids” have grown up to be friends and colleagues. They include Chloe Keller, currently directing theater at Vinalhaven School … and Medomak Valley’s original Peter Pan.

“What we say now is, we were in school together,” said Durgin. “Her kids were [Class B runner-up] in the one-acts, she’s amazing!”

Indeed, Keller wrote and directed a one-act competition piece while a high school student, set at Waldoboro’s famous Moody’s Diner. And her stint as Peter Pan was a natural for someone who went on to extensive training in circus skills and dance, as well as classical acting disciplines, and an international career as a performer, director and educator.

Durgin is hopeful that Keller and fellow alum Dave Karas, who played against her as Captain Hook, can attend one of the final weekend’s performances for the opportunity of a then/now photo. Karas, who also “was in school” together with Durgin, lives locally.

“He still has the wreath and Christmas tree business his folks had, Wreaths of Maine, in Waldoboro,” Durgin said.

There had been some thought of flying for 2015’s “Wizard of Oz,” so when Medomak Valley students Somerset Ganz and Ella Grant suggested “Peter Pan” for what would be their last musical, tech/set director Matthew Kopishke started investigating the options. The longtime production team — Durgin, Kopishke, music director Peter Stuart, choreographer Dixie Weisman and costumer Kerry Watts Weber — started talking about how much fun it would be to revisit the storied show. For Durgin, it seemed like “kind of a big splash to end on.”

It will be a big splash for seniors Ganz and Grant too, who ended up cast as Peter Pan and Wendy. Grant has been doing shows with Durgin since middle school; Ganz describes the experience of school theatricals as one of finding “our own sense of selves by pretending to be others.” Wyatt Sykes, playing Captain Hook, and Andrew Beaucage, playing John, also are seniors.

“I was thinking of leaving last year, but my heartstrings are so attached to these kids — it’s going to be hard,” said Durgin.

The cast has been hard at work for months; in recent weeks, they have been training with Perry Fertig, tech director at USM’s Department of Theatre and a flying director for Foy Inventerprises, better known as Flying by Foy.

“He’s been wonderful with the kids, just great,” said Durgin.

The Dolloff Auditorium stage has a lot of width, but height? Not so much. Most of the flying is going to be side to side, said Durgin, with Peter Pan on one track and the three Darling children on another one.

“It’s been fascinating,” she said. “The kids are thrilled, even the ones watching, saying, 'Yeah, we can see the wires on their backs' and stuff like that. But once they’re up there, the magic happens.”

And the kids are not just theater geeks; some of them are jocks. Durgin said she dislikes both terms, but has made a point to cross the divide.

“We’ve got the football and soccer players in again this year. Most of them are pirates, and there’s a couple that are Indians,” she said.

Ah, the Indians, the bane of any “Peter Pan” production. Durgin said she and the cast have talked a lot about the play's being a product of its time in its language and attitudes — some of which, she admitted, are “just awful.”

“We don’t use the word ‘redskin,’ even though it’s in the script; we use ‘warrior.’ That was one we had to change, just couldn’t deal with that,” she said.

Dealing with the athletes, however, has been fun and Durgin praises coach Ryan Snell for his support. A number of the players who did last year’s musical went on to do more shows; and most are back for another go this year.

“That’s another reason why we moved it ahead this year, because they usually have a big football game around Halloween, and we don’t want to encroach on their time to shine,” said Durgin.

She also doesn’t want families to feel any burden about seeing their stars on the stage and has come up with some creative ways to fill the theater seats. “Peter Pan” coloring pages have been sent out to the elementary schools, and those children who color them and bring them to a performance will get in free, as well as seeing their work displayed in the lobby.

“Susan Jones came up with that idea, so she’s still working with us,” said Durgin.

And a special parent-sibling ticket for families of cast and crew, for the cost of “a-show-and-a-half,” admits the holder to all seven shows.

“As much as we need the money, my goal is to get families there to cheer their kids on — that’s what it’s all about. A lot of families can’t afford to buy more than one ticket, and I don’t want them to miss out on seeing their kids on stage,” Durgin said.

Renting flying equipment is not cheap. The production team is attempting to defray the cost via a GoFundMe campaign, sponsorships in the program and money raised by ticket sales, as well as admission to the Tinkerbelle Teas — an opportunity to enjoy refreshments and visit with costumed cast members after the Sunday performances.

“Last year, we got a lot of grief because we only had the one matinee,” said Durgin, not a fan of ending a run on a matinee. “But it’s what’s right for the show, so we’re doing two of them this year.”

Grief aside, last year’s “character tea” was a hit, thanks in no small part to organizers Kay Sproul Flanagan, Mindy Gould and Robyn Baker-Sykes, who “do an amazing job — they just go crazy and are so creative,” Durgin said.

“It was very, very successful. The little kids completely buy into it,” she said.

The post-matinee events, which cost $5 to attend, have somewhat limited space and are likely to sell out; tickets are sold at the door only. Show tickets are $12 reserved for all; $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and students younger than 18, general admission; they can be reserved by calling 832-5389, ext. 149, or emailing mvhs-players@msad40.org.

“Peter Pan” will likely have to dip into funds raised by other shows, given the high cost of flying. The Medomak Valley Players’ drama budget once was subsidized by the school district, but runs on its own these days. Durgin credits Kopishke’s good management with enabling the spartan program to update the facility, bit by bit.

“We’ve gotten some new lighting, and new legs and teasers, which were much needed, so we’re gradually refurbishing things in the auditorium,” she said. “We like to make sure Medomak stays up there ... that when people come, they have a show that they’re happy to see.”

It will be hard for Durgin and the supportive Medomak Valley community to see the end of her involvement with student shows.

“I had to make the decision, as tough as it is,” she said. “Somebody else will come along and do great and wonderful things, I know they will!”

Comments (1)
Posted by: Rick Ash | Nov 02, 2017 22:14

Can’t wait! There’s something about Peter Pan...

Great article Dagney! Congratulations Nancy, Matt and everyone!

Never grow up! Not me!!!



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