Ford Flannagan was born to play Peter Pan. The slim Theatre IV actor, director and company manager stands at 5-foot-7 or -8, with a shock of natural red hair. The 45-year-old first played the boy from Neverland in 1996, and will reprise that role in an upcoming Theatre IV production April 27 through May 13.
Although Flannagan has played diverse roles in productions from "The Diary of Anne Frank" to "Little Shop of Horrors" during his 20-year career, Peter Pan is a role close to Flannagan's heart.
"I'm a Southern gentleman, if nothing else, who wouldn't grow up," he says.
This year's production is special for Flannagan, whose 5-year-old son, Josh, is making his acting debut as Michael Darling. Flannagan says he's as proud as he can be to be working with his son. As Michael, Josh also gets to fly in the production.
Forget the lights and the audience, flying is where the action is for children of all ages. Does thinking happy thoughts really help one fly? "Let's put it this way," Flannagan says, "you won't fly without them."
Style: What's it like playing Peter Pan?
Flannagan: It's the ultimate lovely thought. It's wonderful to play Peter Pan. I'm basically up there being myself. It's a big game for me. It's an adventure. If I have an acting career, this is the crown and glory. I can certainly retire from the theater very happy having done Peter Pan. If ever there was a role that I was meant to play, this was it. Cause I was certainly the little boy who never grew up.
Style: Since this is your second time doing this role, are you approaching it differently this time?
Flannagan: In a way. I'm hoping to remain healthy this time, cause I dislocated ribs flying last time, which kind of put a damper on the run for me. So I'm approaching it with extra padding. Actually, we had a whole different take on the show this year. It's a completely different task. Drastically different in a lot of regards because our Lost Boys, for example, this time are going to be actual boys. Taller than I am. In the first run we had little ones in fact girls and boys. So this is a different look at it in that regard.
Style: This is a physically demanding role. Have you had to do any special training to prepare?
Flannagan: I try to stay in shape. As a part-time actor, it's not a bad idea to stay in as good of shape as you can.
But you do have to work on your back because you pretty much have to hold yourself up because the wire doesn't do it. It kind of tilts you forward, so you kind of have to force yourself up.
Style: Do you need to take any special precautions for flying?
Flannagan: The harnesses that we are outfitted with squeeze you up pretty good from all directions and you get jerked up suddenly. Hopefully it looks very smooth to the audience, but it's a lot of sudden jarring movements. After the first two or three days of flying in rehearsals, you feel like you've been in a car accident. It takes a week or so to get used to it, and it's never really comfortable. It's not that way for the children I don't think, cause they're light. Thank heavens for that. But for adults it's not always a pleasant experience. But once you're up there sailing around, it's pretty cool.
Style: You are a director as well as an actor. Does having directing experience now influence you as an actor?
Flannagan: Certainly it does. It gives you a whole lot a different perspective than just an actor would have. I mean having been on the other side of the fence, you understand what the director is going through. And you give the director less grief than you would have if you have not been in the director's chair. I think all actors should have to direct so they'll know to treat the directors nicely.