Off to Neverland! An interview with the director of ‘For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 22, 2018

Submitted by LSt

Lee Street theatre’s upcoming production, For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday, includes familiar faces and those new to the Lee Street stage. Producing the latest Sarah Ruhl play is an exciting addition to Lee Street’s season, so CataLST intern Claire Raimist sat down with director Heather Wilson-Bowlby to discuss her directing process and how audience members will relate to this new play.

When did you first get involved with theatre?

Well, you could say from my days as a little girl playing “pretend” with my toy box full of old clothes and costume jewelry or my time in church as part of the angel choir (redheads don’t get to be Mary, FYI). But, my first “real” theatre experience was at 15. I was a Lady in Waiting in Elizabeth, the Queen. I had five lines and I took myself very seriously, as any young artist discovering her passion would.

How long have you been directing?

Since my time as a student at Catawba College, about 1993.

Do you have any favorite directors? Any who inspire your work?

I was very influenced by James Epperson’s use of music and staging and James Parker’s congruity and simplicity during my time at Catawba. I grew up watching “old” movies and have thought about how their timing and staging were still in a theatrical mode. Julie Taymor’s staging of the Lion King was a game changer for me and Augusto Boal’s theatre for social change approach was breath of fresh air.

The story of Peter Pan has been rewritten, adapted, and integrated into new works for more than 100 years. What do you think makes it so timeless?

Humans are always looking at the mountain and wondering what’s on the other side. Neverland is a place we know but have never seen. Peter Pan is the embodiment of possibility, joy and youth. As we grow, our ability to hold on to the awe of youth and the excitement of joy in its purest sense diminishes if not disappears. Peter Pan is the fantasy we wish we could join.

What can the audience expect when they come to this show? What is your vision?

Ruhl has created an ode to her family, most particularly her mother. This is the hope of keeping our loved ones alive with us forever.

Sarah Ruhl has spoken about Ann being based off of her own mother, Kathleen. Did your mother or anybody close to you act as an inspiration for you during this process?

I was close to both my grandmothers and witnessed their last walks in this life. I have felt their memories very close during this rehearsal process. And of course, my own mother. The day I dread most is losing her and my father, but I know they will always be in my head and my heart. My memories will keep them present till it’s my time to depart.

What did you look for when casting this play?

I was blessed with a ready-made cast of stellar local actors.

What has it been like working with both Lee Street Theatre and St. Thomas Players together?

This is my first time directing for both; I have directed for Lee Street before, but I have acted for St.Thomas on two other productions. I thrive on collaboration and both groups have been very supportive.

Do you have a favorite moment from this process?

Working on the fantasia of Movement Three has been a joy.

When the audience leaves the theatre, what do you hope stays with them?

I hope their own familial memories will be sparked and they too will want to visit their own Neverland filled with youth and joy.

The cast of For Peter Pan, on Her 70th Birthday includes Claudia Galup as Ann, John Brincefield as John, Bill Reilly as Michael, Jon Bowlby as Jim, Jennifer Hubbard as Wendy, and Gary Thornburg as George. It is produced by St. Thomas Players and directed by Heather Wilson-Bowlby in collaboration with the Center for Faith and the Arts.

Performances will be held at Lee Street theatre, 329 N Lee Street, Salisbury, NC 28144. Performances dates are Sept. 27-29 & Oct. 4-6 at 7:30 pm and Sept. 30 at 2:30 pm. General tickets are $17.55 and student tickets are $10,  available at or 704.310.5507.




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