Interview with “Lost Girl” Playwright, Director and Dramaturg

We sat down with Lost Girl playwright, Kimberly Belfower; director, Cara Phipps; and dramaturg, Cortney McEniry to discuss the development of this exciting new piece of theatre including the social implications of the work, the cultural context and the cast’s Hogwarts houses.

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Kimberly, what was your process in creating this work?

Kimberly: My process in creating this work took place over about seven years. I started writing little drips and drabs of it when I was 22-23, and it started as just poems and monologues that were all about archiving memory and there was no character attached to any of it. But the seed was planted when I was writing these monologues about Wendy Darling and me being diagnosed with “Wendy Darling Syndrome” from one of my friends because I was always trying to save the little lost boys. So that was in my head even though none of the characters were on paper yet and my friend Scears did this puppet theatre piece with them and I wanted it to be a story and not just puppets. When I moved to New York I started taking playwriting classes in earnest and wrote the first draft of it in a class taught by Cusi Cram who is an amazing playwright with the Labyrinth Theater Company. I had a couple readings and kept revising it and it was actually my submission to grad school. When I got here the process changed a lot because Cara became involved and we did as series of workshops and I completely rewrote the play and made it a wildly different play then it was two years ago.

I often write from a place of obsession. If I can’t stop thinking about something that is the thing I have to write about, and then as a result a lot of my characters end up being obsessive. So Wendy in Lost Girl is obsessed with her memories and her feelings and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I think it’s about how do you turn it into something that helps you move forward instead of being stuck. So the Bechtel test is something that [examines] if two women are on stage or on screen and are not talking about a man and that doesn’t really happen in Lost Girl and I’m going to be really open about that because I think that test is flawed and I think that sometimes when we’re talking about men or boys we’re also talking about other things.

So what do you think is the most important theme of the work?

Kimberly: I think for me the most important theme of the work is someone reclaiming their life and we talk a lot about how Wendy and Peter in the original Peter Pan met because she was fixing his shadow and ever since then she’s kind of stayed in the shadow of his story. But this is about someone learning how to tell their own story and be in the center of their own life. I think it’s also about growing up like the original Peter Pan is about growing up but in a different time in your life and in a different way.

Cara: I think for me it’s about growing up and how part of growing up is that you have to do things and as memory being a thread through the play I think it’s very easy getting stuck in living what was or what could have been, the “what if” of nostalgia. And it’s scary to go outside of that because it means creating something new and making something new.

So who do you think is going to love this show?

Kimberly: Everybody! [Laughs]

Cara: I think that’s what so lovely about it. I think an important element of this as a new work is that its female-centric. It’s about a woman going through this and we are so pressed to see a young woman telling her story on her stage. I think there is a population of people who don’t see themselves on stage and that’s why it’s especially exciting to be doing it here for a community here that so often is doing work that’s not necessarily representative of them but rather for their education. Also for the people in the community who have gone through that or who have children who are going through that so I think it’ll be exciting, especially exciting for parents of the actors to get up and to see their children doing their work and practicing their craft but also sharing their experience and I think it’s exciting when artists get to do that.

Kimberly: Yeah that’s been the lovely thing about developing it here with undergrads and that was why we both wanted to pitch it for the mainstage because as soon as we did the first workshop [we realized that] this was resonating in a way that most new plays that we worked on haven’t with this specific population of people. I also think we’re lucky that Peter Pan is such a widely known cultural touchstone and I think we have an opportunity to engage across generations. I think that anybody who loves Peter Pan, anybody has ever been young…because in the original book it [says] Wendy grew up and then later she had a family of her own but what happened in between? Did she have a hard time moving on? What went on there?

Cara: Right!

Kimberly: Because she was gone for like, a week! [Laughs]

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How do you feel that this story relates to the original cannon of Peter Pan, both in the text and in the way it relates to audiences? Finding something that is familiar in Peter Pan but also something new…

Cara: One of the first things that excited me about this play was that it was Peter Pan but it was Wendy and I just really love stories that take a character that is either in the shadows or not in the limelight. So when I saw this I [realized that] we see Wendy and she’s present in the book and in all versions of Peter Pan but I was like “what did happen to Wendy?” So that was my first hook in. What happens when you have the most magical (what feels like) year of your life and then you return home where everything is still the same and it was [only] a week and how do you go on from that to having a family and a daughter? So I think that there’s something known in that but that unknown is something that’ll have people [asking] “what did happen to Wendy?” So hopefully this’ll be something that joins the ranks to say she has a story to tell too. And that’s one of my favorite lines from the play, “I want him to see there’s a world inside me too but he always likes stories about him best.” So this is hers.

Cortney: I think the characters are inspired by J.M. Barry’s characters in Peter and Wendy and I think this world is a new world so I think of it as a world between Peter Pan and our world. These symbols and characters give us a way to wrestle with our own things in a way that feels safer than if we were talking about maybe more modern and realistic [issues] but because we’re talking about kisses that live on the corner of your mouth and we’re talking about flying in Neverland it feels like we can move through some of our own [concerns] about growing up in a more… I don’t want to say in an easier way because [the symbolism] almost makes it harder…but I think there’s some freedom in putting it in a different world.

Kimberly: So I take Wendy, four of the lost boys, Peter and they are kind of our touchstones into the existing world of Peter Pan and some of the familiar things are referenced like flying and in the original Peter Pan they gave each other thimbles and acorns as kisses but then they also kiss each other with their mouths so I just focus on the mouths part! [Laughs] Because the kisses are a central metaphor I think in Peter Pan as well and it kind of takes that and blows it up and centers it around these late teens early 20s people and what does it mean to give something intimate to somebody else and what does it mean to be left alone. I think fans of Peter Pan will find many things familiar [to them], especially the lost boys. I think you look at the original Peter Pan and this place where a bunch of boys ran wild in treehouses together and I think the lost boys in the play you can still feel the same energy in them but they’re 19-years-old now. We don’t like saying this play is outside of time but…

Cara: We also don’t use [the world] timeless because timeless is such a tricky word.

Kimberly: We were kind of saying “fluid time” because they use contemporary language but it’s also pretty spare of colloquialisms and it’s not explicitly set in England like the original Peter Pan. It echoes Wendy’s mental state; she’s so tunnel vision about this one thing in her life and nothing outside of it and that’s going to be echoed in the design and how the outside world fits in as she’s moving through the play. In the original Peter Pan, Wendy was like the mother figure, she was in charge of telling the bedtime stories and she had to remind everyone to take their medicine and Neverland is centered around this idea that if you stayed here you have to forget everything else that came before, but Wendy’s job was remembering everything. I think taking that idea and [focusing on] what happened to that girl who always kept an archive of things and what that means when she’s at a different time in her life.

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What has been your favorite moment while working on the play? One ridiculous thing that’s stood out the most?

Kimberly: I just love [the lost boys] so much I could weep! I’ve never been around such a wonderful group of actors in my life it’s astonishing…I might cry.

I’ll put that in the notes…”Kimberly suddenly burst into tears!”

Kimberly: [Laughs] Good! They’ll love it. Just the lost boys are always up to some shenanigans. Because what I love about them in Peter Pan and Wendy and in the play Lost Girl and them in life is that mixture of shenanigans and sweetness. Because they’re kicking each other and being idiots and throwing things and then Ismael comes up and says “hey is it ok if me and Stephen go over to that couch and figure out more about our relationship?” [Laughs] And I said “yeah, sweet boy, that’s ok.”

Cara: And then they went over to the couch with their journals and started journaling together.

Kimberly: It’s too much.

Cara: The best parts of rehearsal are when we’re working too and I feel affirmed when I hear from the back just this GAH. That usually means we’re on the right track.

Kimberly: Another one is when Kelsey Oliver, our movement director, was coming up with an idea one day and we have a bed that looks very real but is not. And she, in her beautiful dancer way, without knowing that the bed wasn’t real, dives onto it to demonstrate how she wants this moment to look…and it was this beautiful moment with the most horrifying sound. She was okay, thank God, but I was horrified for the longest time and then later when I was thinking about it I was just cracking up.

Cara: We’re halfway through the semester but you walk into that room and its 10:00 p.m. at night and you’re there for four hours after a super long day but I feel more energized than I do at any point in my day.

Kimberly: So I think at table work seeing a lot of them make discoveries about things and realize that they were right or that there is no right and that’s another thing too, this is a living breathing thing I’m still making changes in rehearsal and I think them seeing that gives them more freedom to have agency as actors.

Cara: Actually one of my favorite moments happened last night. We had our first run, they’re all off book and we were talking just about general stuff and Ismael started talking about the first lost boys scene and he said, “the way were doing it right now doesn’t feel like how I thought about it and this is what I think it might [be].” I think it was because we said to them, “you should feel like you can contribute, you can ask questions and if something doesn’t feel right do something else, or ask to do something else” and he kind of jumped right in because I think that’s the thing too with actors at this point in their training. The ownership that all of them have taken…it’s already theirs and they’re treating it as such which I think is going to make the work that much stronger.

That’s one of the really exciting things about new work, right, that this piece now kind of belongs to the family.

Kimberly: Yes, exactly. I feel like there are more silly stories…

Cara: During table work we all went around and identified ourselves by zodiac sign and Hogwarts house and there were people in the cast who hadn’t taken the Pottermore test and so now we all know and it’s a very present thing in the room.

Kimberly: All of the lost boys except one are in Gryffindor, which makes all of the sense. Actually Ismael says he’s a Slytherin but I don’t believe it.

Cara: I don’t know, I think maybe. I think he might be a Gryffindor-Slytherin, especially just like bringing up that thing up [when he wanted to change the scene], that is a very Slyterthin trait.

Kimberly: Yeah, they were all very surprised I was a Slytherin.

I feel like I’m not surprised, in a nice way. In a powerful way.

Kimberly: Thank you.

Cara: Slytherin is a powerhouse.

Kimberly: And there are three or four boys who are Gryffindor-Aquarius. They were every pleased about that.

What is it about this play that made you want to be a part of it?

Cara: I’m just intrigued by work that tells the story of people that we don’t [really know]. Like I love [the book] Wicked I love the fact that we take this character that we think we know, but do we really know her? Or like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead…So when I first encountered the play, just hearing the line “it’s about Wendy Darling after she comes back from Neverland,” [I was] sold. This journey she goes through from living in [memories] to making new ones was really exciting to me.

Cortney: I love working with Kimberly and Cara and just to be in the room with these artists. For me, I think Lost Girl lets the emotions of women live and breathe on stage in a way that’s not usually allowed. I think that’s really critical. It interrogates relationships and asks big questions about why we put ourselves in relationships with other people and how we open ourselves up to being hurt and is that a good thing and is it worth it in a way that people in our generation are sometimes afraid to ask. I think Lost Girl really looks at how people hurt each other and how we move forward with that and how we let go. Those are all big questions that I’m [personally] struggling with, the undergraduate community is struggling with…so I was excited to dig into those questions and look at them from a woman-centered point of view.

As a new work, what is it that you feel is the most important element of this piece that resonates with audiences? We discussed a little bit about femininity and the kind of experience that happens at this time in your life, but what else comes to mind as a significant thread of this piece?

Cortney: I think what’s really interesting about the timing for Lost Girl is that when J.M. Barry wrote Peter Pan and Wendy he was writing it at time when childhood was being redefined like child labor laws and public education and all these things were starting to be a thing and kids were allowed to stay kids for a longer amount of time and I think that had a lot to do with how he wrote the book and then shortly after the World Wars really took adolescence away again or just cut it off very violently and then now as were looking at where Lost Girl was being produced and written and looking at the millennial generation which is a generation whose adolescence and the amount of time we spend in adolescence has really been defined again by policies and world events and what’s going on. I think Lost Girl is looking at this perception of millennials as people who delay our adolescence, as people who never grow up and don’t want to and can’t get over things and are really selfish and it’s actually pointing to those greater narratives about our generation and speaking some truths about it. I think the audience can have their own idea of what they can take away from it because everyone’s had different experiences with growing up.

Lost Girl 
A new play by Kimberly Belflower

Oscar G. Brockett Theatre
November 9-20, 2016

Photos by Lawrence Peart