Restoring cyberspace: Durham Family Theatre presents ‘Space Pirates!’

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 04:36 PM

Since its founding in 2010, Durham Family Theatre has presented William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and two original productions, “Alice: A Mad Musical Adventure,” based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Between the Bells,” a drama about high school. Now the company takes on the Internet and the world of video games with the production of “Space Pirates! A Musical Adventure through Cyberspace.”
The musical, written by Jeff Bengford and Dianne Saichek, bills itself as “a song-filled battle between technology and imagination.” In the play, four children – Kyle (played by James Apisai, 11), Liz (played by Jelani Anderson, 10), Robin (played by Maddie Brigman, 11) and Barbie (played by Mimi Haase, 11) must rescue their baby sitters, who have been sucked into a video game.
Chasm, the “Evil Diva of Cyberspace,” (played by Jelani’s mother, Rhumel Anderson) is trying to take all the imagination and color out of cyberspace. The four children enlist the help of the Space Pirates and the Pixels to defeat Chasm and her followers called the Borks. The children also must rescue their baby sitters, find a way out of the game and back home, also restoring the sense of wonder and imagination to cyberspace.  
The nonprofit Durham Family Theatre’s mission is to present multi-race, multi-age and multi-ethnic community theater. “Space Pirates” is the company’s third family musical, with 38 cast members of all ages.
Jennifer Justice, the theater’s artistic director and cofounder, and musical director Joy Harrell put actors of all ages through the paces at a recent rehearsal at Central Park School. Harrell led the rival Pixels and Borks through their separate songs, many times gesticulating, conducting and clapping to keep the children focused and in character. One fine point during this rehearsal was with the Borks, who were not quite scary enough to be convincing, the directors told them. “Don’t smile!” Harrell told them. “Let me see your scowling face,” Justice said.
Justice drove home the same prohibition against smiling when the Pixels rehearsed their song. She told the actors that they needed to express fear at their rivals the Borks. “Believe in every single thing you do” to make the characters believable to the audience, she said. 
One can argue that the smiling comes from the fact that the actors of all ages in this company are truly having a good time, even though putting on a production requires sometime tedious rehearsal, in the hours after school and work.
The actors are having fun, but also learning a lot of theater basics. Emmy Atkins Pearcy, 10, who plays one of the Borks, volunteered her praises for Justice as a director. Pearcy has been in previous classes the theater presents, and plans to attend next summer’s camp. “She’s tough, but in a good way,” Pearcy said of Justice. “She’s making sure we do our best.” One ethic she has learned in Durham Family Theatre is perseverance, she said. “You just can’t quit. You’ve got to practice and practice. Everyone’s depending on you …. And you can’t always be the star. You’ve got to be on the sidelines sometimes. That’s OK,” Pearcy said.
Mary Badlam, 10, also a Bork, said playing the role is challenging for her and her fellow actors because they are usually a lively, happy bunch, and not smiling forces them to get into another character.
Haase said one of her fears as the play heads toward its final days of rehearsal is “not learning all my lines completely and not remembering all my blocking in the performance.”
As Justice and Harrell led the Pixels and Borks in the rehearsal space, the Space Pirates were rehearsing their song “Time Warp” on their own in a nearby hall. The Space Pirates are Auntais Faulkner, Kent Lewis, Patrick Morgan and Christine Allen – the “elders” in the group – and Stella Domec, 10; Lucie Talikoff, 7; and Beth Siegling, 13.
Faulkner, who played in “As You Like It,” said the most meaningful part about being a Space Pirate in this play is “being looked up to by the children,” and giving them a role model to admire.


Go and DO
WHAT: Durham Family Theatre presents “Space Pirates! A Musical Adventure through Cyberspace”
WHEN: Feb. 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 9 at 1 p.m.
WHERE: Trinity United Methodist Church, 215 N. Church St., Durham
ADMISSION: Suggested donation of $10 for adults, $6 for children, students and senior citizens. For information, visit