PARIS FRANKLIN; Culture Editor; email@example.com
Starting February 17, the Pacific Lutheran University Theatre Department took on a unique challenge: five shows in the span of 48 hours.
“James and the Giant Peach,” adapted from the popular children’s book by Roald Dahl, took place in the Eastvold Auditorium of the Karen Hille Phillips Center. Dramatized by Richard R. George and directed by senior Katie Wee, the show provided a unique experience for actors and audiences alike.
The show was performed for three elementary schools from the Parkland area, most of which had students read the book before attending the show.
“It was written for children, so at first I wasn’t sure how that would go,” senior Lexi Jason said.
Jason played James’ Aunt Spiker, one of the villains in the play. “James and the Giant Peach” is Jason’s first foray into children’s theatre and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It was a really good opportunity to stretch our theatre department,” Jason said.
In order to best prepare for the role, Jason also read the book “James and the Giant Peach.” She was able to look at the ways Dahl described Aunt Spiker in order to bring the character to life. In addition, Jason studied many Disney villains as inspiration for her character choices. She focused on a specific voice, certain mannerisms and a variety of makeup and costuming choices to inform how she brought Aunt Spiker to life on stage.
“She’s the older sister, so she’s the boss,” Jason said. She also mentioned how Aunt Spiker and her sister Aunt Sponge are united in hating the main character, James.
“It’s supposed to be terrible that we’re like that, but it’s supposed to be that we are the characters who people love to hate,” Jason said.
She also added that they had to be funny and quirky so that the kids weren’t afraid of them. “Katie, the director, really let us play with that,” Jason said. “She gave us fun moments to work off of but we came up with a lot of it on our own.”
Jason was very happy to see that her background work paid off and that audiences would often point her and Aunt Sponge out throughout the show. Aside from the creative choices, Jason also found satisfaction in performing for a different audience than she usually experiences.
Jason was surprised by the elementary school audiences. “I was really impressed because the children were really quiet during the show,” Jason said. “I didn’t notice too much chatter or anything. They reacted very well to the jokes.”
Jason’s favorite moment was when her character forgets how to spell the word “money.” Children in the audience helped her by offering the next letters in the word during the performance.
“That was a really cool moment because the kids were part of the story in that moment. They felt like they helped the story along and accomplished something because I needed their help,” Jason said. “It is important for young kids to feel like they do make a difference. How often are you asking a six-year-old’s opinion?
“The theater is a really fun space for children to have a say in what happens.”
Another aspect of the show that Jason enjoyed was being able to interact with the audiences after the show ended. “So often as actors, you do your bow and you take off your costume and you don’t get to talk to anyone,” said Jason. She most enjoyed “helping the kids form their own opinions and challenging those opinions. It was interesting to see the kids who stood up to us,” said Jason in reference to speaking to children who told her that she was bad and James was good.
“It was really nice to go out and just talk to the kids in character and break the fourth wall and then also give them a really nice memory of possibly the first time they ever saw a show,” said Jason. “It would be really cool someday just to know that a kid would be inspired by us up there.”
Jason found it especially meaningful to perform for children in the Parkland community, as arts funding is limited. “For me, I felt it hugely rewarding to perform for these kids because I felt that I was making a difference in their lives,” said Jason.
“I think it is really cool that these kids could possibly remember this for the rest of their lives, and who knows, they could end up on the PLU stage, too,” said Jason. 🅼