This year the High School has chosen to stage a thoughtfully revised version of Peter Pan as the High School musical. The High School musical serves multiple purposes, one of which is pedagogical. In a Waldorf school, the arts are a fundamental tool that not only furthers the students’ academic skills but, more importantly, cultivates the uniquely human capacity of creativity. In the High School, in particular, the arts have been a way to delve into uncomfortable subjects and explore social interactions, and to serve as a platform for examination and change.

Inherent to its make-believe world, which revels in the magic of childhood, and embedded in its playful music, there is content in Peter Pan that is troubling and offensive. The text contains racist, stereotypical behaviors that reflect the perspective of a particular author living in his particular times. Because of this, Peter Pan provides an opportunity to engage critically around themes central both to the author J.M. Barrie’s world, and to ours: colonialism, racism, gender norms, and what it means to grow from child to adult.

From their very initial reading of Peter Pan, director Liz Rose has been leading the students in actively learning about “isms” in their many forms, and in working with the moral dilemma of how to proceed. They have been wrestling with how to adapt the text, to manage their way around the original perspective, and to find a fresh and authentic way to produce an imperfect play with an old, inappropriate, and unresolved approach to society. They have been examining such questions as: Is it better to erase or adapt the Native American depiction in the play? How do we address the deficits written by history in general? Outside of rehearsal, High School students and faculty are working with the play as an educational vehicle to examine the past, deconstruct historical and contemporary power relations, and consider a shared future. We have been particularly glad to have community members with expertise, from alumni and early childhood parents to members of the IDEA committee, contributing to this process.

Our High School students have embraced adapting the script, and continue to ask questions that challenge the racism embedded in American and British literature. The process has been illuminating and the lessons abundant, allowing the students to put social justice into action.

We will share the on-going activity of crafting the play through videos and photos of rehearsal and discussions in a gallery of the play. We invite you to not only to come to the re-imagining of Peter Pan, but be part of the conversation and what we learned along the way by attending the post-performance discussion!

Virginia McWilliam, MA
Hartsbrook School Pedagogical Chair