Kool Kat of the Week: Emily Yetter Will Make You Believe in Fairies

From the moment she descends from the rafters in her pink tutu, her face perpetually peevish, it’s clear Emily Yetter is not your Uncle Walt’s Tinkerbell. No blonde beehive, sexy green mini-dress, ethereal flitting or delicate shoes—stomp, stomp. She’ll fly you into Neverland, but you’d better watch your back or she’ll have the lost boys shooting you down with an arrow. She don’t need no stinkin’ mother. Just ask Wendy.

A quirky-jerky politically incorrect anti-heroine is just what Tinkerbell should be, since the multimedia production currently playing under the big tent in Pemberton Place is J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN—an adaptation of the original play, not Disney’s nor Broadway’s reboot starring adult actresses sporting Robin Hood hats. British Three Sixty Entertainment has trumpeted the use of the world’s first theatre-in-the-round CGI projection screens that thrust the audience into flight alongside the boy who wouldn’t grow up. But while the special effects are awesome, what makes the staging so wonderful is the return to the original story and the way the cast embraces its whimsy wholeheartedly.

Emily Yetter as Tinkerbell. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.

The critically acclaimed production debuted in 2009 in London’s Kensington Gardens, the neighborhood where Barrie set the story, but Yetter joined the cast for its stateside debut in San Francisco last spring. An ingénue whose previous theatre experience has been in university and local productions, she’s been winning accolades from reviewers for her passion at petulance and talent at tantrums. ATLRetro caught up with her recently and coaxed her to share a few secrets about her magical experience getting locked in nursery chests, cavorting with lost boys, foiling a certain hook-handed pirate, and—of course—flying.

1. How did an American girl like you land your professional stage debut role as Tinkerbell in a British hit production?

Well, they were recasting the role in LA, and I was in LA at the time so the short answer is that I just auditioned for it. But everything that Tinkerbell is or that this role requires, acting-wise and physically, are all things that I have worked hard at my whole life and that I have loved doing so much. So when I got the opportunity to audition, I just knew that she was mine.

2. Did you have any fear of flying when you first put on the harness?

I was a competitive cheerleader, and I was a flyer, so people would always ask me if it was scary being launched into the air. My answer was that you are thinking about so much other stuff there’s no time to be scared. That’s the same way I feel about this now. You’re thinking about the mechanics of flying to make sure everything is going the way it needs to go, as well as [acting] in a scene. I’ve never really been scared of heights, but the first time they pulled me up to the rafters, which is about three stories high, I got up there and looked down and was like, “OK, this is pretty high!” That was as close to fear as I’ve ever felt in terms of flying.

3. Is it challenging playing such a physical role?

Tink, what she does is fly. She loves to fly, and she’s really proud of flying and she teaches others to fly. So I felt this extra pressure to become perfect at flying. Still, there are things that you think are going to be really easy [in the harness], and that are actually really difficult. Just turning around, facing one way, and then turning around and facing the other way is quite challenging until you understand how to do it. But once I got the basics down, it became really fun.

Tinkerbell (Yetter) flies with Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce). Photo credit: Ed Krieger.

4. The flight to Neverland over the rooftops of London is breathtaking for the audience. What was it like for you when you first did it with the CGI images and do you still get that sense of wonder every night?

The first time I did it, I almost cried. It is just really beautiful, because we are flying through it and it feels so real. And it doesn’t stop being so awesome and so fun and such a magical feeling. I remember I was doing the show for a month or two already, and I was talking to Ciaran [Joyce], who plays Peter, and I asked him “does it ever stop being awesome?” He was like, “no, I still enjoy it.”

5. You’ve given Tink a very distinctive voice and really restored her to the mischievous, often rude, tantrum-throwing sprite of Barrie’s original story who even goads the Lost Boys into shooting Wendy with an arrow. What guidelines did you receive for playing the part and how do you channel your inner Tinkerbell?

I love that question. My bible for this role was J.M. Barrie’s book. The director [Ben Harrison], before he began to work with me, just told me to read the book. We went over all the things that popped out the most to me. Among that was that fairies are so tiny that they can only be one thing at a time. They’re not all bad or all good, but when they change from one to the other, it must be a complete change. So that’s the direction we worked on. [Tinkerbell] is this little thing, but she’s just full to the brim of passion and anger and love. She feels things with all of her body. She expresses with her whole body. That’s why everything is so big with her. It’s as if we put a magnifying glass over her. If she was tiny, it would be really funny to see this little tiny thing just screaming out all over the place. She’s feeling an emotion 100% and then changing to something else. Everything is a game and everything is to win Peter.

5.What’s your favorite scene to play and why?

I do really love the flight to Neverland, but I think that Tink’s revival has to be my favorite scene to perform. Without giving too much away, it brings you back to the beauty of life. You’ve been given another chance, so all of a sudden you feel a rush for the first time. It’s an incredibly beautiful scene that Peter and I get to share with the audience.

6. Do you ever worry the audience won’t start reciting “I do believe in fairies”?

You know, sometimes they will be shy. They’ll look around to see if other people are going to do it. Should we talk? Are we actually supposed to do it? So when that happens, I just imagine that it’s coming from children sleeping in their beds or children whose mothers are reading them a story.

7. But you’d prefer if they actually say it?

Mm-hmm. I prefer that by the end, they’re all roaring!

Samantha Hopkins as Wendy with Emily Yetter as Tinker Bell. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.

8. So I’ve got ask, in this politically correct time, I’ve got to ask do you get a kick out of saying “Silly Ass” in a family play?

I came out of the show one night, and there were these two little girls with their parents. They saw me, and they were “oh, you were her favorite, and I think she learned some new words from you, so thank you.” [The parents] were not very happy at all. It’s in the book, but aside from that, ass means donkey in British, so it’s not a swear word, but Americans see it as that. I just think of it as the vocabulary of Tinkerbell, and that’s all she really knows. That’s one of the few words she knows how to say, and she quite likes it. I do like being controversial, though. I enjoy that some people think that I’m a little too far out there. That’s a good thing and a sign that I’m giving her all I can and exploring her with all that I know.

9) Other than performing, Have you had a chance to do anything fun while you’re here in Atlanta?

We do work a lot, but I do enjoy Little 5 Points.

A few more fun facts about Emily:

Favorite Retro play: HAMLET

Favorite Retro movie: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

Classic actress/role model: Natalie Wood. She looks amazingly like my grandmother, and people tell me I look like her, too.

Before she was a fairy: competitive cheerleader, gymnast, dancer, martial artist, actress

J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN plays through March 20. ATLRetro says don’t miss it. You can find out how to buy tickets here.

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