Returning to theater

Sedlemyer directing next ACT show

Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich First-time director Shane Sedlemyer, left, speaks with cast members Earl Cooper of Johnstown as Captain Slank (center) and Eadin Esworthy of Altoona who plays Grempkin during a scene in the first act of “Peter and the Star Catcher.”

Shane Sedlemyer, 26, of Nicktown makes his directorial debut with Altoona Community Theatre’s production of Disney’s “Peter and the Star Catcher,” which opens Feb. 14 at the Mishler Theatre.

This will be Sedlemyer’s first show with ACT but as a former Walt Disney employee, and a Ph.D. candidate in English literature, he’s well positioned to bring this “hybrid, psuedo-musical” to life.

“‘Peter and the Star Catcher’ was the most licensed play last year,” he said. “I was drawn to it because of the fairy tale aesthetic and I like the idea of the story-telling element. I also did research for my master’s degree in South Seas Literature and how sailors on the ships tell tall tales and weave yarns, but they are often told from a different perspective of what happened on ships — so it appealed to me being a Disney production and my experiences in academia. It’s also quite funny.”

The show features two, full musical numbers with other smaller vignette musical numbers, Sedlemyer said. “The whole show is scored underneath so it’s kind of a hybrid.”

The production is also unique for its use of narration by the actors, who break the “fourth wall” and talk directly to the audience in their own voices instead of staying in character.

“The cast also prompts the audience to interact,” Sedlemyer said. “There are prompts for applause and boos. … It’s really enjoyable for all ages.”

The 12-member cast includes leads: McKenna Dugan (Molly Aster), Jake Kibler (Boy/Peter) and Michael Manfred (Black Stache). Dugan and Kibler played in Altoona Area High School’s production and most cast members have multiple roles.

Kibler, 18, of Altoona described the role of Peter Pan as “a dream role of mine since I was little; he is my favorite Disney character … I was absolutely overjoyed when I got the role; I finally get to act in my dream role.”

The Disney-licensed play is based on a series of children’s books, also published by Disney. Sedlemyer said the Disney connection attracted him to return to theater. His last theatrical endeavor occurred during his undergraduate days at Penn State Altoona, where he directed “Dog Sees God,” an imagining of the Peanuts gang as adults. After graduation, he spent a half year as an intern in Disney’s internship program where he learned how Disney makes the magic happen in their productions.

However, the rigorous demands of earning a master’s degree in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania followed by entering it’s doctoral program, precluded Sedlemyer from continuing to work in area theater.

However, this production proved irresistible, he said.

“The original Peter Pan story is a fairy tale and also has some misogynistic parts with female characters portrayed stereotypically as wives and mothers. The play is timely for this reason as the characters call out such typing to show anyone can lead. It’s not necessary to be a man or even an adult,” Sedlemyer said.

Dugan, 18, of Altoona said she “absolutely fell in love with Molly. She’s a curious kid who’s wise beyond her years and a female leader in a time when they were a rarity.”

The plot is a “prequel” to the Peter Pan story and is set on a ship so the audience sails to exotic locales during Queen Victoria’s reign in 1885 and learn about the orphan turned magical boy who wouldn’t grow up. While a “prequel” to the classic story, Sedlemyer said, familiarity with classic Peter Pan isn’t necessary. Although, “there are a lot of winks and nods to that story, the play is its own self-contained story.”

Through creative set and lighting design, an abstract ship comes to life through the use of crates, planks and ropes and provides three levels for the actors movements.

“It is a very minimal set, but gives the illusion of a ship and we have a lot to play with,” Sedlemyer said.

“I love that this show is really stripped down,” Dugan said. “With simple costumes and a black box set the show demands its actors and the audience to find their inner kid and use their imagination to bring it all to life.”

And, Kibler, who played “Aster” in high school said, “it’s really cool to see the different take that Shane has for the scenes and show in general. … This production is incredibly funny and full of action the entire time. It’s an interesting take on how Peter Pan became Peter Pan as well as the other beloved characters we associated him with. It has been a blast putting this intricate show together.”

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.