Disney animated it, television did it live, and Hollywood makes blockbusters out of it. But while J. M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland has long been an entertainment staple, how he came to be the boy who wouldn’t grow up has long remained a mystery.

That is all about to change as the Arts Club Theatre Company presents Peter and the Starcatcher as the opener for the brand new BMO Theatre Centre in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Unlike many of Hollywood’s attempts at telling Peter’s story though, this new take is intended largely to reside in the imaginations of its actors and audience.

“This play is all about the collective experience, with the theatre audience actively engaged with their imagination,” says director David Mackay. “It evokes the feeling of the characters, time and place, and it is the atmosphere that is created that is such a joy with this play.”

In fact, McKay suspects that the reason Hollywood’s latest attempt, the recent Pan, didn’t fare so well at the box office was because it left little to one’s imagination.

Based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher uses a dozen actors to portray more than 100 characters as it follows a young orphaned boy who takes to the high seas stowed away on The Neverland, a ship bound for the kingdom of Rundoon. While aboard, the would-be Peter Pan befriends the young Molly Aster, who we discover is an apprentice Starcatcher. Appointed by the Queen to collect “starstuff” as it falls to earth, Starcatchers dispose of it in the world’s hottest active volcano, which just happens to be in Rundoon.

David Mackay directs the Arts Club production of Peter and the Starcatcher as the inaugural show at the BMO Theatre Centre
David Mackay directs the Arts Club production of Peter and the Starcatcher as the inaugural show at the BMO Theatre Centre

“From life as an unnamed orphan, the play gradually reveals Peter Pan to us,” says Mackay.

While one may be forgiven in thinking this Rick Elice stage adaptation is targeted at children, for Mackay the reality is quite different, with a story that appeal to adults.

“In the Peter Pan myth, mortality is always on our minds at some level,” says Mackay. “This concept of not growing old and staying in that amazing time before the inevitable responsibilities of life kick-in is a golden period for many adults. It was a time where a summer’s day could become this epic adventure; there is something really temporal about that.”

For the younger set, Peter and the Starcatcher becomes a catalyst for already fertile imaginations. With its lack of elaborate set pieces and low-tech approach to creating some of the magic on stage, it becomes what Mackay characterizes as a partnership between audience and actors.

“It allows for an active engagement to help fill in the blanks of the design and the actors,” says Mackay.  “At the same time it is also great storytelling, and as movement based theatre it that allows a unique collaboration between audience and actors to create the illusions.”

Part of that collaboration comes out of necessity, as the playwright provides no specific instructions on how Peter and the Starcatcher is to be staged.

“The rehearsal process so far has been both enthralling and grueling, as we find an illusion without a map,” says Mackay. “At the most it is merely suggested within the stage directions, but it is in no way an Ikea schematic.”

Peter and the Starcatcher plays the BMO Theatre Centre (162 West 1st Ave, Vancouver) November 26 – December 27. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.