Grinnell students in tie-die don various absurd props and strut around, giddy with humor. While this really should be the next Harris Party, it is instead the dress rehearsal for the Neverland Players, a show that brings together college actors and grade-school playwrights.
The show returns after a hiatus this semester, once again tapping into the creative minds of third and fourth graders at Davis Elementary School.
“We contact administrators at Davis, and we specifically request stories from third and fourth graders,” co-director Mitch Avitt ’10 said, detailing the process that brings these stories to the stage. “These kids are writing about what’s going on in class [and] what they enjoy learning about.”
“We pick the ones that we think we can make into good plays, and we just work as a group and write short skits based on the stories,” said actor Alex Littler ’10.
The stories can range from elaborate masterpieces to bizarre blurbs. One example: “One day I was drinking root beer in my back yard, and some aliens came and grabbed me. WHOOO! Then they took me to Root Beer Island.”
Given that performers often have little content to work with, Avitt and co-director Barbara Monaco ’10, give the actors a lot of freedom in transforming the children’s stories into an actual performance.
“Sometimes we get sort of a bland story and you have to put in a witch, a fairy godmother, or a rhinoceros,” Avitt said.
The rehearsal shows the versatility that the group has to have to succeed. At one point, the performance leapt from a musical about a color-changing girl to a fifth grader lost on a zoo field trip to an alien abduction.
The actors do spend some time performing the 11 or 12 skits end to end during the rehearsal, followed by comments and feedback from the directors and actors. Mostly there is laughter.
“Literally it’s college students pretending they’re kids again,” Monaco said.
“The funniest parts of rehearsals have just been reading the stories,” Littler said.
The hilarity not only brings out the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old, but also the mind of a 13-year-old, as innocent stories can often bring inappropriate interpretations from the college students performing them.
“There is enough stuff that happens [in interpreting the children’s stories] that we’ve considered doing a naughty Neverland,” Avitt said. One story, for example, described a character in bed with “sticky stuff” from a “zomby” on his back.
But a raunchier version of the Neverland Players would take away from the program’s unique role as a campus organization that wants to bridge the gap between the Grinnell “bubble” and the greater Grinnell community. The reason for Neverland Players’ laughter and inspiration ultimately comes back to the Davis Elementary children.
“It’s one of the few things that you can be in that people outside of the college recognize you from,” Monaco said. “I’ve been stopped in Wal-Mart and asked if I was the chicken from Neverland.”