Six Questions for Cameron Durst-Jenkins

Cameron Durst-Jenkins, Peter and the Starcatcher, Blue Canoe, Kingston, OntarioCameron Durst-Jenkins is delighted to be making her Blue Canoe debut in their production of Peter and the Starcatcher. Most recent roles include Crystal in Little Shop of Horrors (Whitehall Theatre), Diana in Anne of Green Gables (Kingston Meistersingers), and Belle in Beauty and the Beast (LCVI). She is currently a student at LCVI and graduate of the Theatre. Complete. focus program. She would like to thank all those involved in Peter and the Starcatcher for their hard work and dedication towards the creation of such a fun and brilliant production.

1. Tell us about yourself and your background with respect to acting, theatre and the performing arts.

I’ve always been extremely fortunate when it comes to opportunities within the arts and theatre spectrum of Kingston. Growing up in Ernestown and studying Music and Drama at Queens, my mom performed with several theatre groups in Kingston. She was heavily involved with QMT throughout her years at Queen’s and as I grew up I watched her perform in School touring shows with a group called Limestone Teachers Theatre Company.

I think that watching her was what first sparked my interest. The first show I did was a Cinderella Pantomime with the Kingston Meistersingers at age 6 and from then on I was hooked. I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform with local companies such as the Kingston Meistersingers, Kinsmen, Whitehall, and now Blue Canoe. I’m currently in my Senior year of High school at L.C.V.I. and I have to say that I owe a lot of the things I’ve learned, in respect to performing, to that place and the people in it. I’ve gotten the chance to perform in two school musicals, Sears Festival Productions and with the Improv team, instilling a sense of confidence in my abilities that I don’t think could have been quite the same anywhere else. Most recently I was lucky enough to spend a semester in the Theatre. Complete. focus program with a great group of students sharing similar interests under the realm of Performance Acting. Being in my final year of highschool, I’m not exactly sure what the future holds but right now I’m looking into performance and design programs offered across Canada.

2. Peter and the Starcatcher is based on best selling novels, which serves as the origin story for Peter Pan. What aspects of this unique backstory did you find most compelling? Can you shed some light on any of the surprises this pseudo-prequel has in store for audience members?

I think that Peter and the Starcatcher perfectly embodies the spirit of Peter Pan. To take the iconic adventure and create such a compelling backstory that anyone can enjoy is absolutely an incredible thing to take part in. You can still expect to find the classic elements of the original story such as pirates, mermaids and the whole shebang. However, since the play tells the tale of how the protagonists and Neverland itself came to be, there are imaginative new characters making the whole thing even better. Molly Aster, for example, is just one of several new characters whose charmingly bold wit shines through, giving even more amiable personality and colour to the story.

Something else unique about the show that quickly became notable to me is the time frame in which the story takes place. The play is set in 1885 during the reign of Queen Victoria, ruler of the British Empire. This element creates quite a nice contrast between the proper British Sailors and the battle scenes against a scruffy, yet diligent pirate crew. The nice thing about the production as a whole is that it’s something you can take the entire family to. It incorporates a balance of epic battle scenes through physical comedy for kids, as well as an abundance of hidden jokes that have had the entire cast whaling in laughter from day one.

3. You will be playing the famous right hand to several well known pirates, Lieutenant Greggors/Smee. How do you prepare for your role as one of the show’s main antagonists? What challenges did you encounter, and how do get yourself in the right head space to act as Black Stache’s villainous sidekick.

The role of Smee has definitely been an interesting one for me. The character himself is a man who has spent most of his life grovelling at the feet of his ruthless leader, Captain Stache, and is traditionally played by a middle-aged man. He consistently portrays a humorous side to pirating through his ignorance and I think that with this combination of innocence and a need to be liked/needed by his idol, there’s an unexpected amount of relatable elements to his character. Because of this contrast between the character’s traditional elements and the type of inflections that more naturally come out of me, it’s been a lot of fun work-shopping the role and trying to put my own twist on it. As far as inspiration goes, immediately after reading the script, my mind went to a weird mix of the characters Moist from Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and Lefou from Beauty and the Beast. I’ve sort of been keeping those two characters in the back of my head as we’ve developed scenes and character relationships. Lucky enough for me, working alongside Kyle who plays The Black Stache, has made the challenge a lot of fun and much easier than I would have expected.

4. As the youngest member of this talented cast, and a first time performer with Blue Canoe, this production has involved many first time experiences for you. What has been the most profound lesson you’ve learned thus far, and how will it effect how you approach future shows?

Prior to Peter and the Starcatcher I had never really done a real play that consists of so much physical comedy. Needless to say, the entire experience was a pretty new thing to me from the get-go but despite a few nerves at the beginning, the process has been an awesome chance for expansion in new skills. It’s been great working with and learning from such positive cast and crew members. I think that as far as technicalities go, I’ll be coming out from the show having learned a lot of new vocal and character development techniques from experienced members of the cast. The importance of physical control on stage has always been a criteria that I’ve known to be imperative. It quickly became apparent to me that this show really pushes those boundaries. Having the cast working to physically create a majority of the set is proving to be a pleasant challenge. It brings the need for muscle memory to a whole new level. Since I generally shift towards the musical theatre genre more than anything else, I think I’ll always keep this show in my mind moving forward for those exact reasons. Training in dance or no training, the way you move and hold yourself is a crucial component of being on stage.

5. Anyone who has been involved in community theatre – or any theatre for that matter – is aware of the amount of work that is involved both on and off stage. Successful runs are often made possible by having all hands on deck. Aside from your on-stage role, what other aspects of this performance have you helped out with, or otherwise, what jobs have piqued your interest?

Because of the way the show is written, most of the cast is on stage for a majority of the time. Due to this, the cast also moves and pre-sets every single set piece throughout the show. Sliding through such quick transitions while still having to remember to bring a series of set pieces across the stage enlightened me on how much the behind-scenes crew really does to make everything transition smoothly. Even a presence of the smallest props can make or break the totality of a scene. So in that aspect, I have a newfound sense of appreciation for those backstage working to organize everything and making sure nothing overlaps. Similarly, watching the development of costumes has been an intriguing one. You can only expect diverse and lively costumes for a show such as this one, and watching the creative way in which the team of costume designers have worked to assemble a marvelous array of costume pieces, captivated my attention from the start.

6. What is your favorite scene to perform, and your favorite scene to watch in Peter and the Starcatcher? Why do these scenes rank to high for you? How do you think audience members will respond to them?

I start out at the beginning of the show playing Lieutenant Greggors and after that, transition into playing Smee. The fun thing about the character of Smee is mostly the one-liner jokes that pop up at unexpected times. (I have a reference to the Dead Poets Society that I honestly didn’t catch until someone pointed it out.) The final few scenes are really filled with those moments for my character and other characters as well, so while I’d probably call that my favourite section, it’s also my least favourite section because it’s so easy to break character. Aside from that, the first act ends with an unexpected musical number and the second act begins in the same manner. For a show that doesn’t really fall under the musical category, the tunes are surprisingly catchy and the placement of the numbers is something that I think will be quite effective with audiences. “Swim on,” the number ending act one, leaves the first act with a sense of wholeness, followed by “Mermaid out of me” which boosts the energy to start the second act. Hopefully the audiences will have as much fun watching these slightly over dramatic numbers being performed as much as the cast has performing them. From the wings, a scene that I’ve always enjoyed watching is a particular one in act two between Peter Pan (played by Oliver Parkins) and Molly Aster (played by Lizzie Moffatt). The chemistry that they’ve managed to create between the two characters really pulls you into the story and makes you care about their outcome.

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