Unionville Theatre Company’s Peter
Pan ready to soar!
article and photos by Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca
Unionville Theatre Company’s
production of Peter Pan, marking their thirtieth anniversary, takes
flight February 18-22 at Markham Theatre and is sure to provide all
the magic and thrills of this great classic.
When GuidingStar.ca visited UTC on
Sunday, February 8 at their afternoon rehearsal at Crosby Arena on
Main Street Unionville, producer Carlene Flynn talked about the
enduring charm of this work.
“Do you remember the first time you saw Peter Pan?”
she asked me.
And, of course, I did.
Peter Pan on ice at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid.
“You remember it,” she said, “because it’s magic, and it’s
fantasy. None of us
really wants to grow up and become responsible. I know I don’t!”
This was, of course, very amusing coming from the
producer---and grandmother of one of the young performers!---of a
spectacular production one year in the making, the preparations
having started soon after the final curtain on last year’s highly
successful Beauty And The Beast.
A hundred aspiring performers came out for auditions last
September from which a cast of fifty-three was selected, ranging in
age from seven to forty-plus.
This includes a number of performers who have appeared
in previous UTC productions but also many new, and very young,
recruits. All of which
bodes well for the future of this youth-oriented
Pulling the on-stage elements together is Director David
Bertram, now in his third production with Unionville Theatre
Company, having directed The Music Man in 2007 and Beauty
And The Beast in 2008.
UTC has a tradition of double casting the lead roles, with
two sets of lead actors alternating over the eight shows. As David explained, double
casting does place an enormous burden on the Director who must make
sure that not one but two sets of lead actors are stage ready. It
also presents challenges for the costume people who frequently have
to make two sets of costumes for each big role.
But the benefits of double casting far outweigh the
“UTC is a teaching theatre company,” he explained. “This way, we can have more
kids taking lead parts.”
The other advantage would arise if one of the lead actors
were to be unable to perform.
A backup would be immediately available. And when one is performing
the lead role, the alternate is playing a background role such as a
pirate, a native or a lost boy.
David Bertram is assisted this year by a Vocal Director and a
Choreographer who are both in their first show with UTC.
Vocal Director Michelyn Wright is both a voice teacher and a
performer. She has been
a soloist on the operatic stage, and in concert, and has sung as a
chorister with the Canadian Opera Company for the last ten years. Michelyn is now also an
artist educator in the Company’s Education program and voice
director for their summer youth program. She is frequently called
into service as an adjudicator at singing festivals and is an
audition panellist for the Arts York Voice program at Unionville
Choreographer Sharon Walsh-Mehaffey trained in London,
England and at The National Ballet School in Toronto and in 1976
opened her own studio in St. John’s, Newfoundland. In 1987, she moved to
Toronto and six years later established The Dance Institute. She has worked extensively
as a choreographer, including for CBC Television, and is Rehearsal
Mistress for Ballet Jorgen’s Nutcracker.
the orchestra is Music Director Doug Manning. As our readers know, Doug is
also conductor of the Markham Concert Band. The core of the orchestra
that is assembled for UTC productions is from Markham Concert Band
but others are drawn in as well, including four students this year
from Markham District High School.
During my rehearsal visit, I had the pleasure also of meeting
Thai Johnston, son of Michael Johnston, the founder of the
Unionville Theatre Company.
This year being the company’s thirtieth anniversary, Thai was
invited to attend the rehearsal in tribute to his family’s role in
founding UTC. The
company began, he told me, in 1979 as the Little People’s Theatre of
Unionville, with kids from the neighbourhood
performing plays, written by Michael Johnston, in the
basement of the family home in Unionville. By 1987, the company had grown and, for the first time,
performed at Markham Theatre, a production that year of MacArthur
Park. In 1990, they
performed their first musical, Oliver.
year, things are really going to take off. Literally.
a Peter Pan production be if Peter, and the three Darling family
children, Wendy, John and Michael, didn’t fly?
Flying, however, is not to be taken
Theatre Company brought in a technician from ZFX of Louisville,
Kentucky, a company that specialises in training and equipping
theatre companies to perform flying scenes. This expert assisted in
setting up the required cables at Markham Theatre and then gave the
volunteers who will be backstage manning the rigs the mandatory
eight hours training each.
With the rigs in place, it was time for the eight actors who
will fly to get their training and for practice in the choreography
of it all. That
happened last week at the theatre.
The rigging is now in place for when the company moves its
set and rehearsals to the actual performance venue next week.
And what was that first experience of flying like?
“Terrifying, and some of the most fun I’ve had in a long
time,” Sarah Wilkinson, one of the two Peter Pans, declared.
“Really cool,” was the verdict of Sasha
Stewart, the other
Another special feature of this production will be Tinkerbell. She will be an effect of
light and sound and, as Carlene Flynn told us, UTC is appreciative
of the contribution of
the Town of Markham, owners of Markham Theatre, who have acquired the special projector needed to produce “the most
“She actually drops fairy dust as she is going along,”
Carlene explained. “So
it is going to be just spectacular.”
And Doug Manning, from his perch in the orchestra pit, will
signal to his keyboard player to produce the voice of Tink.
Sunday afternoon rehearsals are at Crosby Arena, with Tuesdays
and Thursdays at Brother Andre Catholic High
School. The set building and painting crew
have been busy at 185 Bullock Drive, north of Highway 7 and McCowan
Road, a large unoccupied commercial space
on loan to them for this year's production.
Spacious and well heated, it
was made available to the company through one of its board members. On Tuesday, February 10 and Thursday, February 12 the cast will be there,
rehearsing for the first time around the now completed set.
UTC was fortunate in
obtaining on loan the nursery set from
a theatre company in Brampton but they have built their own pirate
ship and cave.
On this third annual visit
of ours to Unionville Theatre
Company, it was a pleasure to say hello once again to Clennie
Fraser-Mangialardi and Cathy Edwards who, as they usually do, are
looking after costumes. Cathy's daughter Lyndsay Edwards is the "Blackbeard
cast" Mrs. Darling.
Kathy Crupi, who is working on props and set dressing, was also on
Another familiar face was Stage Manager Rob Cline. Rob has
two Asisstant Stage Managers, Barb Kwolek who also did the beautiful
artwork for the promotional poster, and Hudson Scott.
We also got a chance to chat with the two young actors who
each be doing four of the eight performances in the role of
Sasha Stewart is fourteen years old, and a Grade 9 student at
Unionville High School.
It was the turn of Sasha’s “Sparrow cast” to be in the lead roles
for the rehearsal that we visited.
So, she was pretty busy.
Sarah Wilkinson is the “Blackbeard
cast” Peter Pan and was doing service during this rehearsal as a
pirate. Sarah is
seventeen years old and a Grade 12 student at Brother André Catholic
High School. I asked
her what it was like playing the role of a boy. Not a problem, she told me. In fact, all her roles have
been as boys. Six years
ago she played Michael Darling in UTC’s Peter Pan and last
year she was LeFou in Beauty And The Beast
The culmination of almost a year’s work
is nearing. From the
choosing of the play to be performed and the first decisions about the
artistic crew, the sets and rehearsal space;
from the first auditions
and the first rehearsals, to the final product hitting
the stage, a lot of hard work is done, by a lot of people. And, everything is coming
For its young performers, the UTC experience
begins with the excitement of being selected to be in the cast. Then, in hearing the first
instructions from the Director.
Next, they are put through their paces by the Vocal Director
and Choreographer who will also make their stamp on the show. In the
beginning, the cast rehearse with
recorded music and in January the singing and
choreography is blended with the real orchestra. Costume fittings
the excitement grows.
As we mentioned, this week the cast will rehearse
for the first time at 185
Bullock using the actual set.
On Sunday, February 15, the company moves the set into
Markham Theatre and on Monday and Tuesday, the 16th and
17th the final two rehearsals will take place with all
the elements of the show in place, including moments of airborne
acting, and a light-and-sound fairy-dust-sprinkling Tinkerbell.
this time each year everything is polished, and the excitement is
just so high,” Carlene Flynn told us.
Orchestra conductor Doug Manning, now
in his tenth year with UTC, sees the challenges each year and how
the actors rise to them.
“You are requiring people on stage to
act, and sing, and dance,” he said,” and do all that at the same
time as watching me so we can time the orchestra with what they’re
It is a great challenge for young
“But the most fun I have in this job,”
Doug said, “is watching the progress from the first rehearsal to the
finished product and seeing the growth particularly in the young
kids as they find themselves on stage and see what they can do.”
The Sunday rehearsal began at noon, and
at 4 o’clock, the orchestra now departed, it was time for the cast
to sit and hear “notes” from, first, the Vocal Director Michelyn
Wright and, finally, Director David Bertram, with Doug Manning also
present and ready to add his input.
David picked out three scenes for more fine tuning. So, there was more work to
do and only at 5 p.m. was it time for the cast to go home, and for
the Director and staff to talk over some last details.
A demanding day but a very productive
one. It won’t be long
till the cast will be performing for a real audience. This year there will be two
additional weekday matinées geared mainly, but not exclusively,
toward the schools, making eight shows in all.
So, come for an exhilarating,
thrilling and heart-warming trip to Neverland and back!
Mr. Darling/Captain Hook
Mary Anne Perta
Native, Butterfly, Shadow
Great Big Little Panther
For tickets, call the Markham Theatre
box office at 905-305-Show.
here for complete show times and
To learn more about Unionville Theatre