Imagine that your job description includes shipwrecks and sword fights. Now imagine that your coworkers are all pirates and together you have to build forts, spew witty banter and brave the make-believe ocean tides eight times a week for nine months straight all across the country.
For most, this will sound like a far-off, distant memory that's long been buried under years of adulthood and perhaps a more traditional 9-to-5, but for the 12-member cast of Peter and the Starcatcher it's simply another day on the pirate ship.
Peter and the Starcatcher is pegged as the grown-up's prequel to Peter Pan and after its Tony award-winning run on Broadway last year, the show now lands on Bay Area shores for a limited engagement at the Curran Theatre from Nov. 5 - Dec. 1.
SF Weekly caught up with the show's three leads to discuss everything from Neverland to Wonderland and all things pixie dust.
First of all, could you describe the characters you play?
John Sanders: I play a character by the name of Black Stache and he's the villain of this piece. With this play being a prequel to Peter Pan and Stache being a villain and a pirate, you can probably figure out that the guy ends up as the pirate we know as Captain Hook.
He's a real fun role to play, man. Rick Elice has written fantastic lines that any actor would just completely love to say and I love to say every night. He's hilarious and mean and weird and anachronistic and it's a pleasure.
Villains are a lot of fun, aren't they? Villains are great and especially comedic villains and this guy is one of the best ever. He just gets to be such a dastardly fellow. He gets to terrorize all the people around him and have such a great time doing it. Who wouldn't like to get to dig into that a little bit?
Joey deBettencourt: As we know, the play is the grown-up's prequel to Peter Pan. I play the character of Boy who starts off at the beginning of the play as an orphan with no name. It's really a story about this kid who always feels like he's different and like there's something more to life but he's been trapped in this world that he can't get out of. We find how he transforms from being this kid who gets picked on to be being the leader of the group and hero of the story.
Megan Stern: I play Molly Aster who is the heroine alongside Peter and she is self-described as insatiably curious, insufferably bright and pretty much friendless at school. She's opinionated. She's extremely smart, articulate, bossy, adventurous and an interesting role model for girls and women.
What would you say is they key to playing your character?
Sanders: I can't give away all the secrets. It's like a club you need to be initiated into, right? But just like with anything else that's well written and well directed, you gotta learn it and then just have fun with it. I guess that's the key.
deBettencourt: Boy in a lot of ways is the emotional heart of the show. It's important to remember that even through all this zany and crazy comedy. The play works best when it's got this honest and true emotional center.
Stern: I think I have commonalities with her. I remember as a kid trying to find that balance between being ambitious and also having friends. I really relate to her. She's really funny and it just comes naturally to me somehow.
So much of the show feels improvised and in-the-moment. How much of your performance is craft and direction versus spontaneity and play?
John Sanders: That's the trick, isn't it? To make it look like it's all play and a lot of it is, but this play is crafted to look like it's really being invented on the spot and it's beautiful in that way because it's really a celebration of what theater is all about. To be honest, for the most part everything is really tight and the script is very specific. The thought behind that is imaginative and playful but the execution of it is very specific and deliberate. The idea is to convey to the audience this real sense of play and sense of wonder and what it was like to be a kid on the playground.
deBettencourt: The best way I can describe it is that it's a lot like jazz. It has a very set structure. Almost the entirety of the show is a real strong exercise in craft. It's kind of a great thing that we do get that question and that people feel that the show is spontaneous and so creative. It took a lot of work to get it to that place. It's a real big kudos to our artistic team and our director.
Stern: The show is incredibly precise and it has to be because we're twelve actors on stage doing this fast-moving piece in which we use our own bodies to make up the set most of the time, but there's always a playfulness that everyone in the cast brings to the stage every night.
Speaking of prequels, what stories would you be interested in seeing the origin of?
Sanders: I'm a big Star Trek fan and they're currently doing an origin story of that and I'm pretty stoked on it. I grew up with Star Trek and Shakespeare and so those were the things that always picked my fancy when I was kid.
deBettencourt: I feel like we often don't get an honest or interesting look at the American creation story. We do have some Revolutionary War movies but I think even those kind of start too late. We don't have a lot of stories about who the people were who came here first. That's something that's always interested me and it's cool to get to travel around the country and get to see some of those historical spots. Like last week we saw the Alamo when we were in San Antonio and so I'd like to see more movies and plays that drive that history home a bit more. It seems like there's a lot of glazed over stuff.
Stern: I guess because my mind is so much on female protagonists and strong female characters, I'd say Alice in Wonderland because it reminds me of this mini, magical universe kind of like Neverland. In our show we get to see how Neverland becomes Neverland. I'd love to see how Wonderland becomes Wonderland.
Finally, why should San Francisco audiences see Peter and the Starcatcher?
Sanders: It's really cheeky and arty in a fun way. I think it's right up the ally for San Francisco. This show, while it's a lot more fun, and crazy and wild, still has that gritty sadness that comes with the story of a boy who doesn't want to grow up. It kind of creeps on you but there is a melancholic undertone along with the crazy antics that we do in this show and it's one of the reasons why I love it so much.
Stern: When you hear that something is a prequel to Peter Pan it might seem like it's intended primarily for a family audience and for children, but it really does have an edge to it that I find very appealing. There's a very funny and sharp contemporary sensibility about it.