Ellen Chorley transforms Edmonton into an urban playground at the 2014 Found Festival
The problem I've always had with Peter Pan, and I know we all have problems with Peter Pan, but mine specifically is that, if I could remain a kid forever, I don't think I'd ever want to leave my home. I grew up in a city. Why would I ever want to leave the city? Wouldn't I rather find intrigue and mystery in my own backyard just in case the intrigue and mystery disappoints me? Yes. I'd rather meet pirates at home than far away. Good thing, then, for Promise Productions' premiere of Ellen Chorley's Never Never. As part of this year's Found Festival (produced by the Common Ground Arts Society), Chorley has crafted a site-specific adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan that transforms downtown Edmonton into an urban, concrete, strange and sensational, theatrical playground for young audiences.
Promise Productions is Chorley's own Theatre For Young Audiences (TYA) company. Since 2006, she's been adapting fairy tales and folk tales into larger-than-life, strange and fantastic, imaginative theatrical worlds for children to ooh and aah at. Finding ways to engage children in a live-performance setting is a very special skill meant for the charismatic and compassionate. After encountering Never Never it became clear to me, Chorley embodies "charismatic and compassionate". She gets it.
Here's my humble assessment of her formula: Small children like big worlds. You'd agree if you saw Never Never which is a huge undertaking, just big enough, perhaps, to swallow a child whole and enchant them through the best day of their life.
Though Never Never is Promise Productions' first site-specific piece, they are hardly shy about taking ownership over a little bit of Edmonton. In order to construct her urban Neverland, Chorley has successfully metamorphosed a significant portion of the cityscape for a full participatory adventure.
Honouring the true craft of site-specific work, Chorley has written the script specifically for this location. As she describes:
"The writing process was one part typing in front of my computer and two parts walking around the Old Strathcona area location scouting. I chose under Duggan bridge for the Lost Boy's hideout because there where lots of nooks and crannies to hide in, but also a ton of high points for look outs. Michael realizes that he can't fly in an old school playground because we could have him (safely) try to climb a slide in his attempt to take off. The last half of the play takes place on the paths of the river valley because they feel a little like maze and I wanted to make the audience feel like the danger of being lost in a forest."
Chorley's work on and off the computer has certainly paid off. The breadth of the show is arousing. The audience must negotiate their understanding of the landscape in order to inhale the transformation and experience an entirely new scenic display.
Above and beyond the environmental accomplishments that the show emblemizes, its breadth of cast is also a milestone for Chorley. With sixteen different performers, Never Never is the largest cast that her company has ever employed. The enlarged cast absolutely makes for a more immersed setting. Familiar characters including Captain Hook, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys surround the audience as we follow Wendy, Michael and John Darling on their escape from Neverland. Children will think they are lost in a video game, I swear. It's too big for them to see beyond. They will think that they're television has swallowed them. Chorley obviously gets it: The bigger the blithe-ier. As long as she can contain her participants, this might be her best contribution to whatever-it-is-that-makes-kids-gleeful yet. The experience is unforgettable.
Once you're taken by her Found Festival entry, you'll be happy to have learned that Chorley isn't just a whims-maker for children. She also has a burlesque theatre company called Send in the Girls Burlesque and they will be debuting her new play The Hollywoodland Burlesques at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival 2014 this August. So, get your fill of childlike fun at Found and then anticipate adult-awesomeness at Fringe.
CHECK IT OUT
Never Never plays June 28-29 at the Found Festival in Edmonton.
For more information, click here.