Homeschoolers soar in ‘Peter Pan’ production

Photo gallery of the production inside story

By Cassie Eddington

Home-schooled high school senior Lilli Dunn led an expedition to Neverland with the Oxford Cooperative Theatre Company.  Wearing an olive undershirt and leaf-adorned khaki capris under a brown leather vest, she kept a drawstring pouch of pixie dust on her waist. Freckles and glitter decorated her nose and cheeks. 

The Oxford Cooperative Theatre Company opened a four-day run of “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie  Wednesday. The final two shows will be Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cornerstone Community Church. 

“This is dear and close to my heart,” Dunn said before taking the stage on opening night. “I’m trying to soak in every moment.”

Dunn, who played Peter Pan, also led prayer and set design. She said she has learned to be adventurous and try new things with the group.

The Oxford Cooperative Theatre Company, established in 2002 as part of the Oxford Christian Home School Fine Arts Connections, aspires to help students develop into confident and faithful adults by encouraging the Christian faith through all its efforts, according to its mission statement.

“It’s about character development,” Advising Director Becky Maglich said. “That includes character qualities that we believe are reflected in the Bible and through your relationship with God, and helping them grow.” 

“That is one of the deep joys as parents we have, seeing those kinds of connections with God and with each other,” Maglich said. “They really become a family.”

Each production costs around $8,000 to $10,000, Maglich said. The money raised at each show goes directly toward the next production.

The students – who fall between sixth and 12th grade – design costumes, sets, props, lighting and sound, and manage advertising, directing, acting and concessions.

Auditions for the annual spring production were in December, and rehearsal began in January. The students practiced up to eight hours a day in the final weeks of May.

The role of Captain James Hook is played by senior Toby Seals, on stage in a wig of long black curls, a fake mustache, and heavy black eyeliner. He sported black leather boots, a long red trench coat with gold detailing, and a large black pirate hat with a white feather and gold trim around the brim. He wore the iconic hook on his left hand.

This is Seals’ sixth theater production. He said that rehearsing scenes with the full group helped him embody Captain Hook’s booming and confident personality.

“Projection – speaking loudly,” Seals said. “That’s something you’ve got to learn.”

Tenth-grader Sarah Shrader wore a baby blue nightgown with a cornflower blue band around the waist to play the role of Wendy. Glitter adorned her cheekbones after the scene in which Peter sprinkled her with pixie dust.

“You get to make the character, even if the character is already made for you,” Shrader said. “You can put your own little tweaks on it.”

Shrader said she grew up helping her siblings in theater productions. She dances outside of the group and said she plans to continue participating in theater and return to the group to volunteer.

“Usually by the last day we are in tears because we don’t want to leave,” Shrader said. “We just want to keep doing it. It’s really a joy to do this. It’s a blessing, actually.”

Shrader served as the assistant fight choreographer alongside Joah Brier, who played the role of Smee. Seals and Student Director Calvin Thomas, an 11th grader who plans to join the Marines after graduation, also worked on choreographing the realistic fight scenes.

Julia Southerland, in 11th grade, played the part of Tinker Bell. Since her role doesn’t include stage presence, Southerland wore a black tee with Tinker Bell’s glittering name written across it. She sat in the back of the hall with the sound and lighting crew to project a fast-moving beam of green light and sound bells to portray the role.

Oxford Christian Home School Fine Arts Connections formed 20 years ago after a student’s mother had a dream about creating a theater group, Maglich said. Its first productions were performed in the back of a church and then moved around to various areas including the Oxford Community Arts Center and Hall Auditorium on Miami University’s campus.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and short staffing, the company moved this year’s production from Hall Auditorium to Cobblestone Community Church.

“We hope to get back there eventually,” Maglich said.