Senior adapts classic tale for the stage

More than 100 years ago, J.M. Barrie captured the hearts and minds of audiences with a story about a boy who would not grow up.

Now, Zach Kaufer, a senior majoring in theatre, is directing his own adaptation of Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, which premiered Thursday night.

Faith, trust and sawdust · Philip Labes stars as Peter Pan in senior Zach Kaufer’s production Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. The play is a modern spin on the classic J.M. Barrie tale. – Jacqueline Mansky | Daily Trojan

During winter break of his first semester of college, Kaufer picked up a copy of the original novel at his local Barnes and Noble. He read it in an hour and found himself enthralled with the story.

“What really interested me … was the adventure of it,” Kaufer said. “I was a freshman starting college, so the adventure was ahead of me.”

The project stayed on the backburner for some time. Kaufer created a “Peter Pan” folder on his computer, and whenever he saw a relevant picture or article, he simply added it to the folder. As time passed, the folder got larger, but the project  remained abstract.

“It became this huge project, and when you work on so long on something, it becomes daunting,” Kaufer said.

This Jan. 1, however, Kaufer finally applied for the rights to the show. From there, he carefully selected his crew, starting with his long time co-collaborator Victoria Tam, a senior majoring in theatre set design. Kaufer then applied for theater space for the production through the School of Dramatic Arts.

The Woodland Hills native said that the play, his fourth as a director at USC, is by far the most personal for him because it has evolved with him from the first pages of his college experience to the last chapter.

Many things have changed in Kaufer’s life since that night in Barnes and Noble. Now a senior set to graduate early in December, Kaufer remarked that he can’t help but see the story from the point of view of someone nearing the end of an adventure.

“[In the play] I’m looking at what is it that we take from our past in order to move forward into our future,” Kaufer said. “I think that is so perfect because for me, [there are] millions of adventures to come, but this particular one has ended.”

Kaufer found viewer’s ability to relate to the story most fascinating.

“The story evolves from person to person, age that changes it, gender that changes it, all these different factors change your view on the story,” Kaufer said.

In Kaufer’s adaptation, the play is set in the modern day and the story revolves around the life of the narrator, a 22-year-old artist living in London’s East End. The original play imagines the narrator as an older man, in the image of J.M. Barrie.

“By having someone younger, you see that person go through that journey — and immediately the story takes on that different light by having someone talk about the adventure before the adventure, as opposed to after that adventure,” Kaufer said. “Without changing a single word, instantly we get the more playful, youthful tone, and it just supports the idea that the story is so universal.”

The narrator’s studio will serve as the set. Kaufer and the production team wanted to tell the story using everyday objects, as with a ladder that serves as a mast on Captain Hook’s pirate ship, to make Neverland come to life.

“The set is really minimal; we use trunks, chairs, ropes, paint brushes, all these things to create different sets, scenes, props,” Kaufer said. “It’s really about imagination and play and using everyday objects to create all of these different places.”

Kaufer said that he hopes the audience takes away a new appreciation of the story from the play.

“It’s such a complex story that’s been so simplified in the musical adaptation and the Disney story,” Kaufer said. “There’s so much more to it, so many layers. I hope everyone [who] comes to see it takes something different from it, whether it’s how we move forward with our past, or accept the future or accept adventure and saying yes to things.”

Perhaps its appropriate, then, that Kaufer, who sports a Peter Pan iPhone cover and carries a messenger bag depicting Peter taking Wendy and her brothers to Neverland, plans to move to New York to pursue directing and production after graduation. He knows that his next adventure will soon be starting, and he recognizes that the play has provided him with new perspectives on his past and future.

“I hope that everyone watching will be able to see the beauty and the pain of growing up, and the importance [of] moving forward with your life, while not forgetting the past and how the past is able to put you forward,” Kaufer said.


Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up will be playing Friday at 7:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Massman Theatre in the Drama Center.

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