My favorite theater columnist, Peter Filichia, has a piece today about an actress named Nancy Anderson, who is having a triumph in Peter Pan at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, about 40 minutes from my house.
Peter notes that Ms. Anderson may have had a leg-up in the role, having played it in high school, but she has a remarkable story to tell about that high school experience:
[H]er observations had absolutely nothing to do with her. Instead, it dealt with the kids who enabled her to fly around the stage.Every student needs a success scenario in school. Every person needs someone else in the world to affirm their value. Without sports AND arts, how can you build a real community? And how can you prepare students for the "real" world? Multiple choice tests?
“These were the kids who wore trench coats and combat boots. They were troubled, angry loners,” she told me...These boys were collared by the theater department to [take over running the flying equipment after being trained by the professionals.]"
...“You see,” she said, “to 17-year-old boys, the idea of flying kids around the stage on strong wires is very appealing. These kids knew they’d have a lot of responsibility, sure, but they’d also have a lot of power. And kids around that age are always looking for at least a little power. Here with Peter Pan, a whole group of adults were willing to give it to them, to trust them – and to believe in them. So suddenly these boys who had always just spent their time hanging around doing nothing were doing something special -- gliding people in the air.
...“Some of these kids became my friends, so I got to see that so many of them who seemed to be interested in nothing at all were actually very bright. But too many people failed to notice that. Sure, sometimes these kids didn’t give anyone a chance to see how smart they were, because they holed themselves up in their rooms.
“But...I’m convinced that no kid really wants to be a loner; every kid wants to be part of a team. Sure, there are team sports, but there has to be a team for the kid no one wants on his baseball team. There has to be a team for the kid who gets picked last in gym. Every kid has to feel as if he’s part of something – and that’s why the kids who flew us over the stage -- something that the average kid, no matter how big a jock in high school -- ever gets to do. They felt good about themselves and their ability to work with others. Suddenly these kids felt that they were part of something, and because we were depending on them, they wouldn’t let us down... All because at long last people were treating them with respect. These kids worked their butts off, and they wound up doing a beautiful job.”
... Anderson said that soon after she heard about [Columbine], she thought of this long-ago Peter Pan. “Disenfranchised kids become the most dangerous ones you can have in a high school...If we can only level the playing field a little more, and give the non-sports kids the chance to shine. They have so much to offer, if only someone would take the time to notice. I saw it happen. That production of Peter Pan,” she said, squaring her jaw, “taught me why the arts are imperative in schools. Not just important,” she stresses, “but imperative.”
Peter's entire piece can be read here, and his regular column appears every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Theatermania.com. As you might guess, Peter is not only a theater enthusiast, he is a very good man.