The current production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” by the Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance features an impressive number of first year students in the cast, the most in recent memory, including freshman Alex Rowland in the leading role of Molly and four other newcomers.

The production, with script and lyrics by Rick Elice and music by Wayne Barker, will be staged in the Valborg Theatre on the university campus with performances at 7 p.m. from Wednesday, Oct. 2, through Saturday, Oct. 5, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 6.

The ensemble, made up of 17 Appalachian students, is directed by Teresa Lee.

“I went into the casting process looking for the best ensemble for the piece we’re doing. I wasn’t necessarily seeking freshmen, but they’re just that good,” said Lee while emphasizing the department’s policy of creating an inclusive casting process for all students.

The Department of Theatre and Dance has been steadily growing in size for the last decade and now numbers 43 faculty and staff with over 300 majors and minors. The fall of 2019 marked the largest incoming class the history of the program with 75 new students, including 63 first year and 12 transfer students.

“I’m very proud of our upperclassmen,” said Lee, “because they have acted as mentors and role models for the first year students. It feels as if these five students have been here forever — they fit right in.”

Rowland, a theatre performance major from Gastonia, plays as the lead female role of Molly. She comes from a high school with a very small theatre program that has little to no funding.

“My theatre teacher literally had to beg people to be part of our productions, and now being at Appalachian with over a hundred people coming out to auditions … it’s so insane to me.”

With regard to Rowland’s Appalachian debut, she said, “I was overwhelmed at first, but being a part of everything is so exciting. I’m learning so much and am so happy to be creating relationships on and off of the stage.”

The handful of first year students cast in the show are being called the “fab five” and have been pleased with how welcoming the department has been to each of them, individually and collectively.

Richard Barker, a theatre performance and journalism major from Charlotte said, “We’re definitely the small fish in a big pond.”

Will Taylor, a theatre education major who is also from Charlotte said, “I came from a high caliber theatre program in high school and it’s really nice to see how the effort I put in then has trained me now for the rigor and time it takes to pull off a production like this one.” While these five talented freshmen come from diverse backgrounds, they are learning how to be part of the big picture.

Fayetteville native and theatre performance major Justin Nolan said, “Come see ‘Peter and the Starcatcher!’ You really don’t want to miss this performance.”

All five students have big plans to audition for future productions. Nolan and theatre education major Mack DeBernardo from Raleigh will appear in the Appalachian Musical Theatre Club’s upcoming production of “Mama Mia.”

DeBernardo said, “As soon as this show is over, I’m going straight into rehearsals for the next one.”

Based on the novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a wildly theatrical show, with characters ranging from marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes. It is a family-friendly show that playfully explores the depths of greed and despair, and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.

The Valborg Theatre is located on campus at the north side of Chapel Wilson Hall on Howard Street. The theatre entrance faces the back of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts on King Street. Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for faculty and staff, and $17 for adults and available in person at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts box office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., by phone at (800) 841-ARTS (2787), or (828) 262-4046 or online at theatreanddance.appstate.edu.

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