Hannah Bourgeois has a theory about why Peter Pan refuses to grow up.
"He lacks confidence," she says. "He's afraid of being alone and lonely, and he doesn't have the confidence that things would turn out any other way."
In the tradition of the theater, the 13-year-old girl will play the boy who won't grow up in Christian Youth Theatre of Baton Rouge's production of "Peter Pan," opening Nov. 29 in LSU's Claude L. Shaver Theatre.
Bourgeois will be joined by a cast of 83 youngsters, ages 8 to 18, in the show directed by Donna Iverstine.
"It's a big cast, but I've divided them into families — the Lost Boys, the Pirates, the Indians and the Darling Family," Iverstine says. "All of the kids immediately go to their families at rehearsal, and they're so eager to play their parts, which makes it a joy to direct."
Peter Pan, who's about 12, lives in Neverland, where he captains a crew called the Lost Boys. Together they fight Peter's nemesis, Captain Hook and his band of pirates.
And with the ability to fly, Peter appears invincible. But even boys who never grow up have their vulnerabilities, and Peter's is the Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael. He meets them while trying to retrieve his lost shadow in their bedroom.
Peter brings them to Neverland so Wendy can tell stories to the Lost Boys. But Wendy also tells of another way of life in the real world, where kids have parents and do grow up.
And they listen.
With this theme of orphaned boys in mind, artistic director Tonja Rainey partnered Christian Youth Theatre with the group Brave Heart — Children in Need, which works to improve the lives of foster children.
To get the role of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan just right, Bourgeois had to immerse herself in the part, studying the boys at her school, McKinley Middle Magnet.
"They're so different in how they walk with their feet out," she says. "I watched them, and I saw how they talked and acted with each other, then I brought that to the stage."
Playing Captain Hook is 18-year-old Grayson Barraco, who is home-schooled. Though Hook is an angry pirate captain — Peter fed his hand to a crocodile and now he uses a hook — Barraco sees him as an atypical bad guy.
"He has a softer side to him," Barraco says. "And he can be funny."
A Christian Youth Theatre of Baton Rouge production
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 29-30; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 1; 3 p.m. Dec. 2
WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre, LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive
ADMISSION: $19; $15 for ages 12 and younger and groups of 15 and more; $22 at the door