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RANTOUL — Peter Pan has been seen flying around Rantoul in recent weeks.
The character created by British novelist J.M. Barrie will be joined by the Darling family, Captain Hook and assorted other characters this weekend on the gym stage at J.W. Eater Junior High School.
Co-director Jessica Holmes said this play has been a challenge because of the number of students who tried out for roles. She estimated about 60 students auditioned. That compares to about 10 who auditioned just a few years ago.
Holmes said one reason for the greater numbers is the play, “and I believe in the last three years we have built a reputation that it’s fun. They enjoy it, and they like the end result when they get on stage.”
Holmes said many of the actors are sixth-graders.
One who is not is eighth-grader Allan Newman, who holds the lead role as Pan.
The eighth-grader will be in his fourth theater production — two at Eater and two with Rantoul Theatre Group.
Newman said he enjoys acting — “really just the opportunity to take on a different role than your everyday life.”
Newman said it’s hard work, “but it pays off.”
“I ... really just the thought of being able to put this all together and know you worked hard.”
Newman said he “definitely” wants to continue acting in high school.
Kennedy Carico plays the role of Wendy.
Carico is a veteran of the stage, estimating she has been in about 10 plays, although this is the first production at Eater — most of the others being in RTG productions at Grissom Hall.
“I really love how we can get people from school that I don’t even know ... and make new friends. It’s really fun,” Carico said.
Seventh-grader Marvae Mahalick is in his first play. His role is Great Big Little Panther.
“It’s good. It’s fun,” Mahalick said. “I just like acting.”
Mahalick said he doesn’t think he will be too nervous when the curtain goes up this weekend.
“I might have some butterflies in my stomach, but it will be good,” he said.
Raging Waters will be played by eighth-grader Ashley Bunting.
Bunting said she has been in plays for “six to eight years,” including some with RTG and some at the high school.
“I like that I can meet new people and make new experiences,” Bunting said.
Sixth-grader Irshell Rife, who will be on stage for the first time, is John Darling.
“I’m getting used to it, but I’m a little nervous,” Rife said, adding that he enjoys getting to “move around and use your personality.”
Another sixth-grader is Aubree Noles, who is one of The Lost Boys, Toodles. Like Rife, this is her first speaking role.
“If I ever was in a play, I was always an extra. I didn’t do anything,” Noles said. “So this year I thought maybe I could do something, and I finally got a role, and that made me very excited.”
Like several of the others, Noles said she likes being able to express herself and meet new people in the cast.
Other cast members: Nick Hanson as Michael Darling; Kate Snyder, Mrs. Darling; Triston Smith, Mr. Darling; Josh Newman, Nana; Jailynn Murray, Liza; Mikayla Hinners, Tinker Bell; and Grace Hanson, crocodile.
Other members of The Lost Boys: Kainna Berlatsky, Nibs; Alainna Miller, Pots; Callie Luna, Pans; Tyler Young, Slightly; and Evan Simpson, Curly.
The pirates: Katie Landers, Capt. Hook; Adrion Navarrete, Smee; Nena Franklin, Starkey; Natre’ail Mahalick, Cookie; Kaitlyn Cahalan, Skylight; Mia Musick, Noodles; and Caya Flesner, Pirate.
Other members of the Indians: Thrinnagee Sengsone, Tiger Lily; Lexi Newman, Chattering Chipmunk; Tashay Jackson, Two Moons; and Peighton Hunt and Danielle Wheeler, Indians.
Members of the crew: Cavon Bowen, Kendall Compton, Jose Domingo, Neah Franklin, Keaton Garren, Tamia Gunn, Savanna Jones, Ben Mensah, Josh Newman, Jordan Richardson and Kassidy Scott.
Co-directed by Jenny Brunke and Holmes, “Peter Pan” will be presented twice this weekend at 6 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22.
Said Holmes: “I’m impressed with the talent and dedication of these kids.
“For those who never want to grow up, they need to come and see ‘Peter Pan.’”