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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Refusing to grow up: a Q&A with Peter Pan’s Michelle Bardach

Carousel Theatre for Young People presents a new stage adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic novel

Pirates. Lost Boys. A ticking crocodile. And a child who never wants to grow up. Sound familiar?

This holiday season, Carousel Theatre for Young People forgoes a more traditional holiday show with a stage adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan.

Recommended for ages four and up, including adults who never wanted to grow up, the new adaptation features live music and a diverse cast to reimagine Peter Pan for the new millennium.

In our Q&A with actor Michelle Bardach, who plays Wendy, we find out more.

This interview has been edited.

Peter Pan has been told in so many different ways on stage and in other mediums. What does this version bring to the story?

It’s true that the story of Peter Pan is told and retold again in movies, plays and stories. In fact, I produced the musical Darling in 2014, a dark, adult 1920s version loosely based on Peter Pan. And yet no one seems to get sick of it. I think it’s because deep down, most people truly don’t want to grow up. We all dream of our version of Neverland, where we can escape our worries, fears, and responsibilities.

This version of Peter Pan is Theatre for Young Audiences. We aren’t trying to be super realistic. We don’t have fly lines. We don’t have a soundscape. We don’t have many props. Much of this show utilizes “make-believe” and the imagination of children. All the singing and instruments are acoustic and played by the actors. We wanted children to be able to go home and have the capacity to act out the show themselves.

It has been quite beautiful getting to play make-believe again, as an adult, all the childhood memories coming back up to the surface. We don’t take ourselves over-seriously; it’s all fun and games, interspersed with truthful moments of love and grief.

"I believe this show is enjoyable and relatable to everyone at any age, so long as one is willing to bring their imagination with them to the theatre." - Michelle Bardach
“I believe this show is enjoyable and relatable to everyone at any age, so long as one is willing to bring their imagination with them to the theatre.” – Michelle Bardach

What have you found most exciting about portraying such a well-known literary character?

It has been such a pleasure to discover my version of Wendy. Together with our direction team, we’ve found a tough, brave girl. She is still feminine but doesn’t shy away from anything. She is brassy and bold and confident. And at the same time, she is a mother bear, looking after the lost boys with both fierceness and gentleness. Those iconic lines hit your soul with such levity for a children’s show. “Boy, why are you crying?” “Forever is an awfully long time.”

Adults playing children can be tricky. How do you prepare to play someone so much younger than yourself?

I’ve played children a few times in my career, the last time being Children of God at the Cultch earlier this year. When we started rehearsing Peter Pan, I think we were all prepared to put on our higher children’s voices and that sort of awkward, clunkiness of children’s movements. But we’ve been directed to use our natural voices to avoid being a caricature. Children aren’t stupid; they can see through a lot. And especially with Wendy being on the cusp of womanhood, someone who wants kisses and to play house, she is a child often acting like an adult.

What is your favourite scene to watch?

Oh my gosh, there are so many to choose from. But I guess my favourite scene is when the Darling children are reunited with their parents. It’s just so relatable. For anyone away from their loved ones for an extended period knows that breathtaking feeling of seeing them again.

The show incorporates live music. How does music enhance the story?

The music in this show is very eclectic. It’s very folk sounding and it doesn’t sound like traditional musical theatre songs. While in some musicals, it almost feels like the songs are forced, in Peter Pan it truly feels like the songs were born of the moments. The story inspires the music to happen. And then some songs are more performative, like that atmosphere of summer camp with a campfire.

Why should someone come to see this production of Peter Pan?

I honestly thought this show would be only relevant for people in the childhood age range 3-12, but after day one and our first script read-through, I was shocked at how funny it is, and also how poignant.

I believe this show is enjoyable and relatable to everyone at any age, so long as one is willing to bring their imagination with them to the theatre. There is so much truth and heart to witness.

Peter Pan plays Granville Island’s Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Vancouver) November 20 through January 5. Visit for tickets and information.

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