Director’s Corner: Billy Hetherington – “Peter Pan – A Musical Journey”


Director’s Corner

Billy Hetherington: “Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure”

Photo by Christina Patterson

Director Billy Hetherington brings his production of “Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure” to the WCT stage as the culmination of his Youth Summer Camp at the theatre.

To watch Hetherington in action with his child actors, a visitor marvels at how effective he is, bringing a professional tone to his process with the kids and corralling their bristling energy.

The kids respond willingly, learning how to perform inside the magic and power of the live stage, while also having loads of fun!

In a show that becomes what it’s all about—the kids finding their power of expression—Hetherington says the greatest triumphs come with the child actors discovering themselves in a world of their own creation on stage. With nearly 20 years experience teaching theater arts to children, Hetherington says, “I’m constantly impressed with the young talents and their intuitive strengths. In this show, they’re catching onto it, what it means to have fun and play, and also face the onset of growing up.”

A native of Willits, Hetherington first started teaching theater arts to children in 2002 with a production of “Treasure The Gypsies.” His teaching has since been conducted under the aegis of the Willits Shakespeare Company, SPACE in Ukiah, the Long Valley Dance in Laytonville and Ukiah Players Theatre. He currently teaches theater arts at the Willits Charter School.

Asked what is so special for him in working with the child actors, Hetherington doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“One of my favorite things is seeing the shy kid come in, with a dream behind his or her eyes. The kid might be scared up front at first, but by the end of the class, and with the production, they’ve helped create a family with the other actors and I can see where their inspiration is fully lit.”

For himself personally, Hetherington credits his own experience growing up in Willits– with the live theater experience as a central part of his life–in helping to give him a laser focus and purpose during his formative years.

Regarding the show, Hetherington says the production centers on the theme of a child not wanting to grow up, not wanting to leave childhood for the burden of becoming an adult.

Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up. Instead, he becomes the leader of the “Lost Boys” as they magically make their way into Neverland and the world of the imagination. Hetherington explains the power of the journey, as Peter Pan seeks out a mother figure to solidify himself. He finds Wendy Darling who helps him move out of the space of being a child.

While Hetherington  acknowledges that kids typically want to stay in a state of play, he says, “What we do in the production is create a world together. We’re actually capturing and maintaining our playful spirit. But we’re also dedicating ourselves to the acting process. In the end we can look at the world we create on stage. This is our new family, and we’re bringing our biggest assets to the picture.

He says, “The kids are catching onto it intuitively, what it means to face the onset of growing up.”

So what is it that can be so special for children who experience this process on the  live stage?

Hetherington says, “People who involve themselves in live theater always remember the magic moment for themselves on stage. We’re creating those magic moments with the kids and facing the full challenge in life.”

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Willits Community Theatre is located at 37 W. Van Lane (behind Shanachie Pub).

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