‘The magic of parent participation’ helps make Sycamore Ridge production of ‘Peter Pan’ possible

By Karen Billing

One of the lessons being taught at Sycamore Ridge Elementary School recently was how to make Tinker Bell really sparkle and fly. As students rehearsed for their March 14 and March 15 performances of “Peter Pan,” parent volunteer director Shelly Yaeger instructed Tink (played by sixth grader Lily Wickham) how her smile could most delight the children in the audience and how to most-effectively toss her pixie dust.

Lily stood on a stage lit by student crew members, in front of an amazing set painted and decorated by parent volunteers.

The whole thing wouldn’t be possible without the magic of parent participation, said Lisa Blazer, Sycamore Ridge PTA president.

Since 2011, parents have been volunteering to put on the school plays after their Extended Studies Curriculum (ESC) was trimmed and they lost their full-time music teacher.

“Parents were sad to see something like the plays leave so that’s when volunteers came forward to help out,” said Blazer.

She said this year is really flying due to the hard work of Yaeger, choreographer Pam Hunter, stage manager Jen Ernst and their host of parent volunteers. The students are lucky to be learning from volunteers who all have professional theater experience.

“The kids have this amazing opportunity to experience what it’s really like to be in a play,”said Blazer, noting they are expected to work hard and build a strong sense of camaraderie doing it. “Shelly is amazing. She’s a private voice instructor and she just works magic on them.”

“She gets them all to sing,” Ernst said, noting even the ones who are shy about singing at first are confidently carrying a tune by the end.

“Peter Pan” is a bit smaller cast than they’ve had in past productions, with 38 cast members and 11 student crew members. They also have two alumni cast members to fill out the bigger costumes required for the Crocodile and Nana the dog, played by Torrey Pines High School students Sara Shoushtari and Keely Hunter respectively. Several alumni from Carmel Valley Middle School also serve on the crew.

All of the students had to audition back in September and rehearsals have been ongoing since October, during Thursday lunch clubs, and at least one after-school rehearsal a week.

There are some surprising newcomers who turned out for this year’s play, but many of the cast members are returning performers. As Wendy, sixth grader Madeline Ernst is starring in her third show at Sycamore, having previously played Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” and the Genie in “Aladdin.”

“Wendy and Genie were my favorite roles to do, there’s lots of different emotions to represent which can be a bit of a challenge depending on how you decide to perform them, but challenges are good for actors,” said Madeline.

Her favorite scene in “Peter Pan” is when she gets to sing “Your Mother and Mine” in the Lost Boys hideout.

Sixth grader Matthew Mohler has used Sycamore’s drama club as a launching pad into other acting opportunities. After realizing how much he loves theater at Sycamore Ridge, he has gone on to play Gavroche in two different local productions of “Les Miserables” and is soon to play Dill in “To Kill A Mockingbird” at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad — the play opens April 12.

Matthew is having a lot of fun playing the villainous Captain Hook, facing off against his nemesis Peter Pan, played by sixth grader Julia Dawson. Julia moves spritely around the stage, escaping Hook’s clutches, leaping and skipping to appear as if she’s in flight.

Matthew said it’s important for actors to sink completely into the role they’re playing and they can’t be distracted if their shirt is itchy or if their Captain Hook wig slips off during a fight scene (which it did in Wednesday’s rehearsal).

“You have to do what you need to do for the play’s sake. You have to leave your heart out there, you have to keep your soul on the stage,” said Matthew, like an old theater veteran. “You’re another person when you’re up there.”

Parent Tiffany Wickham made the beautiful, whimsical costumes for the show and every touch looks just right, from the fur and leaves on the Lost Boys to the sparkle on the petal skirts of Tinker Bell’s fairy crew, flowers topping their heads and sprouting on vines wrapped around their ankles.

As Smee, sixth grader Aleksander Hunter sports a fake pot belly and the crocodile maneuvers in her costume on a skateboard.

The cast performed the show first for the whole school during a Thursday, March 13, assembly before their three weekend shows.

“It’s great thing because we get a rush of ticket sales afterward, from kids who want to see it again,” Blazer said.

Every year the show has been a sellout for all of their performances and Blazer hopes with continued parent support, they can keep the drama club going for years to come.

Photos/ Karen Billing and John Clark