BWW Interviews: The Growing Stage Executive Director Stephen L. Fredericks Talks about PETER PAN
We are so glad to be able to speak to director and co-founder of The Growing Stage Stephen L. Fredericks as they open their season with the family favorite Peter Pan.
Thanks for joining us on BroadwayWorld. The Growing Stage has such a great history in the landscape of professional theaters in New Jersey. Can you tell us a little of what made you start The company?
Stephen L. Fredericks: I was fortunate enough to take a class in Theatre for Young Audiences when I was in college and had that special professor that triggered my own imagination and allowed me to see the importance and value of children’s theatre as a legitimate art form and genre of professional theatre. It was a gift that demonstrated to me that you could not only create some wonderfully imaginative and challenging pieces of art, but also take a very real contribution to our overall field by helping to establish the theatre audience of tomorrow.
There has been much work on the restoration of the Palace Theater built in 1919 and what you took over in 1995.You just had the ribbon cutting ceremony your opening weekend. What is it like to see all of that work come to fruition?
Really, really tiring – when I allow myself the time to stop and think about everything and everyone who has participated in the process. Seriously though, I have been blessed to have this opportunity to create something that goes beyond me as an individual and means something very special to the young people and families the Growing Stage has had the privilege to serve. We came to this building when it was literally on the town’s “let it burn” list and have restored it back to a place where it is now on the National, State and County Registers of Historic Places. What we originally found can never happen to this building again and we are all very proud of that accomplishment.
Originally I know there was one show planned to start the season, but we all know things happen that can change it up. The story of Peter Pan is such a great story for all ages (just look at PETER AND THE STARCATCHER currently on Broadway). What made you choose this show?
As you can imagine making a professional career in theatre for young audiences, I have often been accused of “never wanting to grow up” – so the character genuinely speaks to me as an artist and to a lot of folks which is why it’s many variations are still being read and produced on the stage. The production also provides our company with the opportunity for meaningful roles for both our professional and community artists, both young and old, to share in the creation of this presentation. That’s an important value you cherish here at TGS – to provide the unique experience for our young aspiring artists to work alongside our professionals to learn and grow in to their own dreams as they take shape.
And I hear you have found a different version that all audiences may not know.
Yes, in the mid-1980’s Piers Chater Robinson created this version that originated in London’s West End and has tour throughout the world. It’s faithful to the original novel by J.M. Barrie while adding new, upbeat music to provide it with its own place among the Peter Pan adaptations. I love it!
The Growing Stage works with many ages of performers. There must be a true love you have for that to do what you do.
Absolutely. As Executive Director of The company I often wear many hats, but this one as director and teacher is my most cherished. Each generation that I have had the chance to work with has inspired me and now when they return to the theatre with their own children it is the greatest gift of all.
And is Peter played by a female in this production (as the wonderful Mary Martin and Kathy Rigby both became famous for doing)?
Yes, our production stars Emily Cara Portune who is simply wonderful in how she has made the part her own, incredible in the power she gives to the character and amazing in how she connects with both the audience and her fellow cast members throughout the performance. When our Peter asks the audience to “clap if you believe” - they do, not only to save Tinker Bell, but to also to thank Emily for her performance. I’m a believer and a big fan of her gift.
Audiences come from all over to witness the incredible work happening at the Palace in Netcong, NJ – correct?
Yes. We are not only the official “Children’s Theatre of New Jersey,” but also the little theatre that could! Our audiences stretch from Manhattan and Staten Island to throughout New Jersey. Families come out to the country, do a little apple or pumpkin picking this time of year and then visit our theatre. Culture and apple cider all in one day – what could be better than that?
What would you say has been a defining moment or greatest achievement for you and The company?
Surviving. We have been through many challenges both financially and politically throughout the years. We have been forced to leave our original home and yet found a new one in desperate need of repair; we have witnessed our school budgets forced to eliminate the arts in their curriculum, our communities hit by recession and many of our corporate partners forced to relocate or worse, close their doors – and yet throughout that – we survive. It speaks to not only the quality we have consistently presented to our audiences, but more importantly the dedication we hold to our mission and values as an organization committed to presenting professional theatre for young audiences.
I think working with children’s theater is a way we can all stay young (like Peter Pan). I started my career in Theater for Young Audiences and have loved it. Do you have any great stories/experiences you can share?
I have a new one every day at the Growing Stage, but I’d rather encourage families to visit us and create their own experience or memory by viewing the stories that we present! We always say that we provide families with the opportunity to share not a moment, but a memory together. PETER PAN – the Musical continues that tradition.
So well said, Stephen and we really appreciate you joining us today.
Peter Pan runs now through Oct 14. Information can be found at http://www.growingstage.com/
Photo Credit: Steve Fredericks photo by Rick Busciglio
Photo: Cast of PETER PAN