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Why is Peter Pan a Girl?

January 07, 2015

The Storied History of Child Entertainment

On Thursday, December 4th the country tuned in to view NBCs live stage production of Peter Pan starring Allison Williams - some because they are avid fans of the flying boy in green tights, others to admittedly “hate watch” (a term coined to describe watching a show with the intent of being critical from the start) and others simply because they were wondering, perhaps hoping, that this year’s live stage production would be better than that of years passed.

The result was an Internet that buzzed as viewers tweeted both positive and negative thoughts. But perhaps one of the most frequently spoofed concepts was that pertaining to Peter Pan’s gender.  Why is Allison Williams, an adult female girl, playing the part of an adolescent boy? 

The reason is actually quite rooted in child performer laws.

Twitter Quotes:

  “Wendy:  Peter how come you never
  take your shirt off when you go

  “More like Peter PAM, am I right?”
  “This is the best lesbian love story ever.”
  “So would it be cool if “Annie” was
  played by a man.”

And some Tweets indicated a true confusion as to why Peter was played by a girl.

From Mia Farrow to Mary Martin to Sandy Duncan to Maude Adams whose performance in 1905 marks the start of live Peter Pan productions on Broadway, Peter Pan has consistently been played by a woman.  Why?

While some speculation is made about an adult female being able to better carry the role than a child while still handling the weight restrictions of theater wires available at the time, the reason is actually quite rooted in child performer laws.  It was Broadway producer Charles Frohman who suggested that the role be played by a woman because casting a boy would affect the rest of the children in the ensemble who would have to be physically scaled down in proportion and, furthermore, the law at the time stated that minors under 14 could not work past 9pm which would have limited rehearsal and performance times.

“There’s a lot of history in it,” Williams commented. “The beginning of it is very boring and has a lot to do with labor laws … there’s nothing more complicated than that. From there it’s just tradition.”

Alas, labor laws can still be complicated.  Need help making sense of it all?  Simply click on the Rules & Laws tab above or give Children In Film a call.  We are happy to help!  818.432.7400