By Darwin Manning
This summer, while many students were trying to impress internship and job supervisors or vacationing, seven Grinnellians spent just over a week in August trying to bring Neverland to an entirely new audience.
Five students supplied the acting—Teddy Hoffman ’14, Amanda Borson ’13, Kate Doyle ’13, Ben Tape ’12 and Lexy Leuszler ’12—while Erik Jarvis ’12 accompanied them on the piano, and Luke Saunders ’12 and Tape directed. The group traveled to the Twin Cities for the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
“The festival consisted of over 200 shows, that ranged from one-person shows to theater companies, and took anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes,” said Doyle.
Neverland, a group of theater enthusiasts, gathers each semester to take stories written by Davis Elementary school children and turn them into a comedy show. The festival organizers randomly choose the group, which has been a staple in Grinnell’s theater culture for several years.
Fringe was the group’s first chance to perform outside of Grinnell. Hoffman’s trip to his former school, Highlands Elementary, in May, encouraged the venture. There he conducted a workshop with Mike Seaman’s class to write stories, some of which would be performed by Neverland Players. After Hoffman gathered the stories, Neverland had to struggle through the process of deciding on 10 out of the 35 stories, each of which they found inspirational.
“Each student’s story, from ‘Land O’ Bananas’ to ‘The Night of the Feral Christmas Carolers,’ from the single-paneled comics to the 16 paged epics, gave us big belly laughs and the inspiration necessary to create our show,” according to The Neverland Players’ Fringe Festival information.
The team followed a similar routine that they have practiced through the many years with Neverland, except this time they worked with a far smaller cast and a far more restrictive time frame.
“At Grinnell we usually spend two weeks playing games and practicing with other stories to bond with the cast,” said Doyle. “We went through a very intense, quick rehearsal process, but it all worked because we knew each other so well.”
The group did not know what to anticipate heading into their first performances away from Grinnell but they enjoyed the opportunity to share their love for theater with a slightly different audience than college students.
“It was our first venture outside of Grinnell and we really wanted to just see what it would be like to be in a different community from the one we are really familiar with,” said Borson, “We really wanted to hear the voices of kids in Minnesota and to have a venue that is open to the general public or people that just enjoy going to theater.”
The troupe came away with many tremendous memories from the experience. They learned from the other extremely creative and artistic groups there and were able to reach out to an audience that was highly receptive to what they were expressing.
“My most memorable moment from the Fringe was when a kid I used to babysit came up on stage to announce his story and bow with us,” said Hoffman, “After the bow, he put his hand on my arm and whispered, ‘I really liked it. Thank you so much.’ He said it with such sincerity that I cried. That was my favorite review we got.”
Neverland received a very strong reaction from their audience, distributing the tenth most tickets at the festival. Additionally, they were written up with positive marks by the Sun Current, a local newspaper.
“It helped us a lot in gaining confidence that this can work in other settings. We received a really strong reaction at the Fringe Festival, and we were one of the highest attended shows,” said Borson.
From here the group hopes to continue building off this experience by participating in future Fringe and similar festivals. Ultimately, they want the chance to dream and collaborate energetically to bring children’s stories to light in Grinnell and beyond.
“From its beginnings in the Wall to the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Neverland has stood and continues to stand for creativity, collaboration, and making sure that kids get the spotlight for their brilliant imaginations,” said Hoffman, “I would love to see Neverland continue to get involved and acquainted with local communities and kids outside of Grinnell.”