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Backstage frees imaginations

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
summit daily news

The essence of childhood – endless imagination – soars at the Breckenridge Theatre this weekend through the Backstage’s production, “The Storyman Presents Peter Pan.”

Keith Ewer wrote the music, and artistic director Christopher Willard freely adapted J.M. Barrie’s classic story of the boy who refuses to grow up. Since the book doesn’t fall under copyright law anymore, Willard incorporated much of Barrie’s language.

However, he faced two main challenges in bringing the enchanting story to Breckenridge. First, he had to tone down some dark and violent parts of the book and reduce the story to a 55-minute play. Then, he had to figure out how to depict such things as Captain Hook, flying boys and a tiny Tinkerbell within the limits of the space – and gravity.

What emerged is a delightful translation of “Peter Pan,” which relies on narrator Arthur Storyman (Willard), shadow and rod puppetry and a collection of found objects to tell the tale: Things like green leaves represent Peter Pan, empty jugs depict the Lost Boys (because they’re searching for purpose) and a hook means the captain is center stage. Kids and adults alike are called to infuse the objects with their imaginations, so each character fully comes to life.

Leading the entire adventure is Arthur, a friendly old man, full of surprises, magic and humor.

“Arthur is a child, despite the wrinkled skin,” Willard said. “There’s a little spark behind the eyes that tells you he may know more about hanging onto the power of imagination than other adults do – but, like an old man, he tends to fall asleep or drift off and tell another story, but you forgive him, and eventually he’ll get back to the (story).”

In order to fully embody Arthur, Willard wears a full silicon mask and gloves fashioned specifically to fit his form. Todd Debreceni, a Denver Post ovation winner for special effects and author of a special effects book, which Hollywood producers often refer to, spent about 100 hours making the mask and gloves, which look extremely realistic.

Since it was Debreceni’s first full mask, which he’ll incorporate into his portfolio (usually, he does a little less complex prosthetic makeup), he worked a deal with Willard on the price, but normally a uniquely fitting get-up like this would cost about $2,500 – $1,500 if it were made from a pre-cast mold.

Just to form a model of Willard’s head, it took Debreceni more than two hours. Then, he built a fiberglass mold, in which to inject the silicon that moves with Willard’s facial features. Referencing older faces posted on the Internet and printed in books, Debreceni piled clay onto the silicon, then meticulously carved and refined wrinkles and sewed in crepe wool hair. He said it was a labor of love, with a challenge:

“It needs to fit Chris’ face – be Chris underneath and someone else on the outside,” Debreceni said.

In the end, both men were very happy with the result. In fact, rather than feeling constrained by the mask, Willard said it liberates him to “fully be my character.”

And, Willard seems to be the perfect person to adapt “Peter Pan,” because he’s been working in children’s theater for 20 years, and as he points out:

“People who work in children’s theater have a bit of Peter Pan in them; they’re always children.”


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