A tent-raising for a new 'Peter Pan' -- in the round, plus CGI
Wednesday morning in Costa Mesa saw the raising of a 100-foot-high white performance tent that later this month will house the traveling multimedia production of a new “Peter Pan,” making its Southern California debut. Dubbed "The threesixty Theatre," the tent was installed at the Orange County Performing Arts Center complex, on a grassy area behind Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Emanating from England, this is not Mary Martin or Cathy Rigby's take on the children's classic. Peter, for instance, is played by a male actor. And instead of a flashlight winking on and off, Tinker Bell is played by a harness-clad actress who swoops in and out of the action.
Additionally, this “Peter Pan” is not the musical version, but is derived from the original J.M. Barrie play that debuted in London in 1904. The acting is decidedly British, with a 22-actor cast along with some Julie Taymor-esque puppets mixed into the two hours-plus of action.
The talker, however, is that this “Peter Pan” arrives with a gee-whiz-technology first: The live action onstage is surrounded by computer generated imagery projected via 15,000 square feet of high-resolution video onto the inside of the tent. It’s the same root CGI technology used in dozens of movies, most famously by Pixar, starting with “Toy Story.”
Here, the technology is employed as backdrop scenery to the live performances. Based on a viewing of the show in San Francisco, where the production began its U.S. run in May, perhaps the most striking blend of the two elements comes when Peter Pan and the children make their initial flight soaring against an ever-changing, animated London skyline that swirls above and around viewers in the grandstand seating.
Designer William Dudley described it as "the first-ever 360 degree cinema for live theater."
What makes this possible, in part, is what the tent doesn't have -- a centering tent pole. Instead, the tent is supported by four external king poles, each more than 100 feet high and made from steel.
The lack of a centering pole allows the imagery to be displayed at 360 degrees around the interior of the tent. It also enables the production to be staged as theater in the round.
“Personally, I think that is wonderful and I’m grateful for it,” said actor Jonathan Hyde, who does double duty as the children’s father, Mr. Darling, and then as Captain Hook, “one of literature’s biggest rotters,” as Hyde described him.
“When you are playing in the round, you have to be engaged and you have to be connecting [with the audience] all the time,” said Hyde. The English actor has been the show’s Hook since its inception in London; his first appearance in Orange County will be, according to his count, his 347th performance of the dual roles.
“With the lights, I can’t see much of the audience, though when I am upstage I can see people in [a couple of] the sections. But I don’t want to lock eyes with people because this isn’t a pantomime, it’s a play. Knowing they can see me from all places pushes me to be on at all times.”
“Peter Pan” begins its Southern California run with previews starting Sept. 28, and tickets are on sale for performances through Nov. 20.
-- Christopher Smith
Above: Top, the tent for 'Peter Pan' near the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Middle, the tent-raising at ground level. Bottom: An inside panoramic view of the new 'Peter Pan.' Credit: Top two photos by Nicholas Koon Photography. Bottom photo by Kevin Berne