Peter Pan in 2014

Notes For NBC’s Creative Team

Allison Williams and Christopher Walken as Peter Pan and Captain Hook
Allison Williams and Christopher Walken in NBC's Peter Pan

I am thrilled that NBC has committed to producing a televised performance of Peter Pan in 2014! I sincerely applaud their continued commitment to family programming, and I am excited for next December!

NBC’s work with live family musicals holds great interest for me because I have spent twelve years working at the intersection of theater and education. I am currently the Associate Education Director at StageOne Family Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, a professional theater company for young audiences that has been educating and entertaining young people for over sixty years. In full disclosure, in addition to my duties at StageOne, I am a former board member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and a current board member for Theatre for Young Audiences/USA.

As an arts administrator and scholar with a disability, I am a contractor with the access department at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and I am a founding member of the International Inclusive Arts Network, an emerging global network that promotes socially responsible casting and quality disability arts for young audiences worldwide.

If nothing else, I hope the list of my former and current endeavors indicates my dedication to excellent theater for people of all ages and abilities. The Sound of Music LIVE this past December was very emotional for me—NBC reminded me how live theater can bring people of all ages together. The broadcast re-connected me with countless colleagues who, while watching live, shared their own Sound of Music memories. In the days that followed, I heard stories about all kinds of viewers—some families had never experienced the characters or the music in real time, and other families had never seen a live production of any musical until that night.

 

Above all, I am cheering for NBC to thoughtfully reflect, and to proceed head- and heart-first with a sense of artistry and grace.

 

While NBC’s continued commitment to a live broadcast is to be commended, I also believe some thoughtful reflection is necessary to improve the quality of its future programming. Frankly, I do not wish to dwell on the (hopefully) obvious lessons learned from The Sound of Music—all of us have looked back on our first brave attempts and crafted our own “to-do-better” lists, and I assume NBC is doing that very thing. Nevertheless, might I suggest a few considerations as NBC moves forward with Peter Pan in 2014?

1. Consider ways to connect with the audience before the broadcast:

  • How might NBC prepare the television audience for the experience of theater aired live?
  • What does the audience need to know about how this experience differs from television? From live theater? From film versions Peter Pan?

2. Consider the power (and responsibility) of appropriate casting:

  • How might NBC cast the demanding roles of Peter Pan appropriately? Know that there are several well-known stars who have the skill and stamina to move, fly, sing, and act their way through this story with grace, all with live cameras upon them.
  • How might NBC’s casting thoughtfully represent the traditionally underrepresented characters in Peter Pan (the "Indians" and young children, for example) with respect and complexity? Ideally, the audience will not see and hear dated references and superficial portrayals. On the contrary, the 2014 telecast of Peter Pan has the power to allow audiences of all ages, races, abilities, and backgrounds to see themselves (literally and figuratively) on screen, and fall in love with the ageless universality of this story.

3. Consider reaching out to national and international resources:

  • The American Alliance for Theatre and Education connects and inspires artists, educators, and scholars at the intersection of theater and education.
  • Theatre for Young Audiences/USA, the US chapter of ASSITEJ International, promotes the power of professional theater for young audiences through excellence, collaboration, and innovation across cultural and international boundaries.

(These two organizations are merely the tip of the iceberg: there are dozens of theater artists and several theater companies who have spent decades creating diverse, thoughtful, and innovative theatrical experiences for families in the US and around the world…)

Above all, I am cheering for NBC to thoughtfully reflect, and to proceed head- and heart-first with a sense of artistry and grace. There are many of us who have felt like Peter, Wendy, the Lost Boys, the Pirates, and even the Crocodile over the years—and I for one will be counting the days until December 4…

 

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I love the idea of "pre-game coverage" for the show. I think theatre desperately needs to instill the same sort of hype and excitement that sports teams are able to bring to their fans. I would love to see a world where NBC hosts director, actor, designers interviews with the same sort of ardor that is currently used on coaches and players in pre and post game interviews. This can be a great way of opening the process of theatre up to audiences in order to demystify it and invite people in.

This is a very thoughtful discussion of issues facing NBC as they go forward with production plans for PETER PAN. Thanks, Talleri! Good-luck, NBC!