West Orange High reaches new heights with 'Peter Pan' production

West Orange High reaches new heights with 'Peter Pan' production
West Orange High reaches new heights with 'Peter Pan' production
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West Orange High School’s “Peter Pan”

WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 5 to 7 and Feb. 12 to 14; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 8 and 15

WHERE: West Orange High School, 1625 Beulah Road, Winter Garden

COST: $10 students, $12 general admission and $15 reserved seats. Advanced tickets can be purchased from any cast member or their parents.

RESERVATIONS: (407) 905-2400, Ext. 6162462.

WINTER GARDEN — In keeping with tradition, the two actors portraying Peter Pan in the upcoming show at West Orange High School are females. Seniors Staci Stout and Kendall Meyer are following in the shadowy footsteps of big-name performers such as Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby and are taking turns as the boy who wouldn’t grow up in performances scheduled for Feb. 5 to 15. 

Stout and Meyer have their lines memorized, and they spent the earlier part of this week learning how to fly, as did the actors portraying the Darling children.

Professional trainer Terry Nelson has been at West Orange teaching flying lessons. She is with ZFX, a Los Angeles company that flies Rigby whenever she tours as Peter Pan. ZFX also hangs the equipment and trains a group of adult men — parents in the drama department — for one week prior to the show.

“In the past, we have always used advanced students, but the district will no longer let the students (have) this educational experience for safety reasons, I believe,” said Ken Rush, drama teacher at West Orange and technical director for this production.

He explained how the contraption works: “The flying is basically a counterweight system of ropes and pulleys with the actors being supported by wire cables.”

Meyer will fly onto the stage for all the in-school and morning performances and the Feb. 8 matinee performance. Stout will take over the role for the evening performances and the matinee Feb. 15. The Peter Pans have their own Captain Hooks. When Meyer is Peter, the role of Hook will be played by junior John Sublette, and when Stout is flying in the role, junior Zachary Croft will be portraying the evil Hook. 

The remaining cast is made up of more than 65 performers ranging in age from 7 to 18. Featured in principal roles will be sophomore Emma Heistand as Wendy, freshman Matt Guernier as John and second-grader A.J. Trammell as Michael. Their parents will be played by Jeffrey Oakman and Trista Sinex. 

Rounding out the Darling family will be the family pet, Nana, played by Bella, a full-grown St. Bernard that is making its stage debut in the production. Bella is the family pet of Sheri Robb, assistant principal at West Orange.

Other featured cast members include Isaiah Rothstein as Smee and Sydney Rundle as Tiger Lily.

The local production of “Peter Pan” features a guest director, West Orange alum Benjamin Rush. Rush is a graduate of the theater department and the son of Ken Rush, the full-time drama director for the nationally recognized theater program. 

Since graduation, Benjamin Rush has attended the Florida School of the Arts and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts technical theater program. He now is working in professional theater and just recently finished working as the fly master on the national tour of “Elf.” He will be in charge of the fly crew during the “Peter Pan” performances.

With a six-week break before his next job, he decided to spend some time giving back to a program that he says gave so much to him. The younger Rush also finds enjoyment and fulfillment in working with young people. Upon his graduation from UNCSA, he started the Wellesley Theatre Project in Wellesley, Massachusetts. WTP is a school of theater for students from kindergarten through 12th grade and continues to grow every year.

Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


Benjamin Rush, a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts technical theater program, is the guest director for “Peter Pan.” He graduated from West Orange High School in 2005 and is the son of Ken Rush, the school’s full-time drama director.

Why did you come back to direct this production?

I have maintained a connection with the program all my life. Before I was in high school, I spent many after-school hours helping build/paint the sets or observing rehearsal. That part of my life is the largest part of my training and something that I am grateful for every day of my professional life. After high school, I would work with the department on one show every year or so as a guest designer. I love working in education. Working with students helps to keep you honest and on your toes. They make me a better artist, and in turn, I hope I am helping make them confident citizens of our community who can achieve whatever they want to be.

Is this your first time returning to WO to direct?

It is not. In my junior year of high school, the department was slated to do a dinner theater production in our smaller cafeteria stage. It was a small cast, comedy that I was familiar with (“Rumors” by Neil Simon). My friend and I went to our teacher (my dad) and asked if he would consider turning the production over to us (myself directing, my friend stage managing). That was the first entirely student-produced production at WOHS. I also guest-directed another dinner theatre comedy a few years later after I had graduated, “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue.

What does it mean to you to be able to return to your alma mater to direct a show?

It means a lot. As I said before, education is something I really treasure and care about. Growing up with two teachers for parents, it is something that I have known inside and out. But this is extra special because Dad has trusted me with the full reins. I have told many people over the years that my father is my greatest collaborator. It is true. He is the artist that I have known and admired the longest. I know his style and he knows mine. Similar as they may be, they are still very different. But having this opportunity after being out working professionally, to come back and show the community that watched me grow during my high school years what I create now — it is very special.

What do you think of the talent at West Orange High?

These kids are amazing. I remember the days of never having enough boys to fill the cast. The days when we only did one musical a year because the department was not full of the strongest singers or dancers. This year, WOHS Theatre is producing three huge musicals. That’s because these kids are triple-threats. They dance, they sing, they act. I am sorry to say, audiences will have to see the show twice to see both of our Peters and Hooks. The four young actors taking on these roles amaze me every day in rehearsal.


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