It’s not 1904 anymore. If Sir J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” were written today, one playwright wondered, would Tinker Bell be more liberated, expressive and opinionated? Then he wrote a play.
Glen Echo Park’s Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) premiered “Tinker Bell,” penned by Washington, D.C. playwright Patrick Flynn, on June 22. This adaptation of the classic tale tells the Peter Pan story from Tinker Bell’s perspective for a story as fresh as it is familiar.
Michael J. Bobbitt, ATMTC’s artistic director, calls Flynn “an amazing storyteller.” The two men have known each other for more than 16 years and reconnected a few years ago. “He and I started chatting about commissions. He wrote a couple of pieces for the Bethesda Urban Partnership’s Play In A Day (for which he won several awards). I was so impressed by his skill, creativity, detail, wit and profoundness.
“I had mentioned the idea of a Peter Pan — which is now in the public domain — from Tinker Bell’s point of view. His treatment, a brief synopsis, was so strong that I had to have this play for our audiences,” Bobbitt said.
Enter Nick Olcott, the show’s director. Not only does he direct the production, he also hand-picked its cast members. What does one look for in a Tinker Bell 2.0? “I looked for what I’m always seeking: an exciting actor who will be fun to work with,” said Olcott. “For Tinker Bell, the additional qualifications were: physical agility and a wicked sense of humor. Of all the characters in the Peter Pan myth, Tink is the one with the most wit. She’s got an answer for everything.”
Michelle Polera stars as Tinker Bell. “She has just the right mix of honey and vinegar to be Tink,” Olcott said, “and you’ll believe she’s flying — even when she’s just standing still!”
Polera, who feels fortunate to have landed this role, said it has a similar “energy” to a role she recently played — that of Nancy Drew in the Flying V Theatre’s “Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World.” “Although these characters have dramatically different personalities and come from widely different worlds, they are both very well-known roles in young adult literature,” she said.
Polera started acting as a child. “[I was] performing at my local church on a regular basis. From there, I did a little [acting] throughout elementary and high school, but because I was also heavily into sports, I would split my time between the stage and the softball field. It wasn’t until college that I made the decision to commit to theater on a more active level.” Polera still hasn’t given up sports entirely. She “performs” as a spin cycle instructor when she’s not on stage.
At age 14, Polera had her first experience inside the world of Peter Pan. She played a Lost Boy and the Crocodile in a local production. She ranks “Hook” as one of her all-time favorite films. “It goes without saying (that) Tinker Bell was a fairy that I knew well,” she said. “So, when I was cast in the [lead] role, I already knew what I needed to know, and I wanted to honor the script in front of me, instead of portray an archetype.”
Is Tinker Bell a comedy, a drama or an adventure? Yes, to all three, Bobbitt said. “I would say that. Like J.M. Barrie’s novel, it’s primarily a comedy, but it does have drama, action, romance, coming-of-age, fantasy — and everything. I think that’s why Peter Pan gets told again and again in so many sources and styles. There is something for everyone”
According to Olcott revealed, the challenge of the show is also its best feature. That is, “revealing to the audience a whole new side of a story they think they know,” he said. “People seeing this show will never see Tinker Bell the same way. They’ll gain a deep appreciation of how much changes when you consider someone else’s point of view,” he said, pointing to this as the main message audience members can take home with them.
“The other big challenge…is creating physical movement that convinces the audience they’re seeing magic, using no other tools than the actors’ imaginations and bodies,” Olcott said. Jenny Male, the show’s movement and fight coordinator, deploys techniques that are not just realistic, but also show kids what they can do without special effects and electronic screens.
In the end, synergy and teamwork may steal the stage in this innovative debut. Bobbitt teed up the central idea. Flynn created the story. Olcott made it happen. The actors brought it to life. All along the way, Bobbitt — the theater’s ambassador of sorts — continued to offers notes based on the Adventure Theatre aesthetic and understanding of their audience, trends in children’s theater and his own experience as a writer, actor and director.
The result is a Tinker Bell for today — a Tinker Bell that is new to audiences young and old. Younger theater-goers will enjoy the action and adventure while older audiences will appreciate the new perspective on a beloved tale.
“‘Tinker Bell’ has tons of physical action, a lot of verbal wit and loads of eye-popping color,” Olcott said. “I think it will appeal to…all.” And, “Thanks to Patrick Flynn’s clever script, there are good jokes that even grownups will get.”
“Tinker Bell,” recommended for all ages, is on stage through Aug. 19 at Adventure Theatre MTC, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Tickets are $19.50 each with Flexpass, group and field trip rates available. Visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org or call 301-634-2270.