On Friday, Gainesville residents are invited to reconnect with their inner child in the national tour of “Finding Neverland.” Before the show, actress Emmanuelle Zeesman gave us a sneak peak into a show she said is one of a kind.
The Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will present the U.S. National Tour of “Finding Neverland” on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. It is a musical, based off true events, about how playwright J.M. Barrie brought his story of Peter Pan to life through courage, hope and a childlike imagination.
Barrie struggles to garner attention and fame for his work and is about to lose hope when he meets widow mother Sylvia and her four boys: Jack, George, Michael and Peter. Barrie gains inspiration for a story when he helps Peter learn to love life and play again. Barrie develops the story of Peter Pan in 1904 London, a dreary and unlikely setting for the production of the successful children’s play.
Emmanuelle Zeesman portrays the role of Mrs. du Maurier, Sylvia’s disapproving mother who is skeptical of Barrie and his childlike imagination.
Zeesman began acting around the age of 10 in children's theatre and has pursued her passion for musical theatre since. She graduated from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre performance and a minor in classical voice.
Upon graduation, Zeesman landed a job with a Canadian theater company called A Company of Fools, in which she performed Shakespeare in the Park during summers and worked as an actor and musician. Since moving to the United States, she has performed in numerous U.S. national tours and off-broadway productions. She has been working consistently as an actor since her college graduation.
“A Company of Fools was my heart,” Zeesman said. “I did not want to go to New York right away when I was cast in such a great place.”
Zeesman said she needed to find out who she really was before moving to New York. She has transformed on stage and in her personal life because she has gained confidence in who she is, rather than catering to what she thinks people may want.
“The craft really impacted how open-minded I am as an individual,” Zeesman said. “My job is to believe everything that is written for my character. I’ve developed a good understanding of the human condition.”
Zeesman said the most difficult part of getting into her character was committing to a particular line about how children are meant to be seen and not heard. She had trouble believing that line, and did an extensive amount of research in order to sympathize with her character. She said she read journal entries from that time period in order to better understand Mrs. du Maurier’s thought process.
“My job as an actor is to believe everything I’m saying and never judge my character,” Zeesman said.
Zeesman said the rehearsal process for the show was taxing due to the speed at which the cast had to learn everything, but they all bonded quickly over the course of the two-and-a-half week rehearsal period.
Zeesman believes that a huge part of being an actor is trusting one’s own artistic journey and authenticity. She claims that any roadblocks she has experienced in her acting career had to do with trusting herself. Some say that women in musical theatre need to fall into a certain stereotype or a specific category in order to succeed, but Zeesman claims this is not true.
“I realized that when it comes to acting, less is more,” Zeesman said. “Our job is to shed that cookie-cutter stereotype and be the real, raw human beings we are onstage.”
Zeesman hopes, overall, that audiences take away the magic and playfulness of “Finding Neverland” when they see the show.
“The audience will leave feeling like no matter how old they are, they can do anything,” Zeesman said. “This show is all about magic and believing in yourself.”