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M.Tanner Morris is the kind of theater buff who looks at it from a variety of angles.
When he was 15, the Mesa man, then a freshman at Red Mountain High School, joined the East Valley Children’s theatre, getting roles in nearly a dozen productions.
He won an AriZONI for his performance in 2016 a lead role — as Prince Dalliance in “67 Cinderellas.”
But when he turned 17, he got interested in the inner workings of the theater —and how stage managers make the backstage activity work with the prevision of a Swiss clock.
He started as an assistant stage manager, working with Karen Rolston, the theater company’s producing artistic director, workshop instructor and mainstage director.
Then he graduated to stage manager — and liked it even more than acting.
“I stopped acting at 17,” said Morris, now 20, and noting he could have hung on to acting until he “aged out” of the 19-year-old age limit for cast members.
“I don’t know what it is but the whole technical side of theater really fascinates me. I love it.”
Now, Morris has taken on yet another side of the theater — playwright.
He wrote an original script, “The Lost Boys of Neverland,” that the East Valley Children’s Theatre will present June 13-16 and June 20-23 at the Mesa Arts Center. Show times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The production features a number of Gilbert kids and teens.
The cast of about 30 actors and actresses ages 8 to 18 will play out something that occurred to Morris when he was still an actor.
He started rethinking the story of Peter Pan, wondering what happened when the flying boy left Neverland. Then he imagined Captain Hook taking control of Neverland — and how a foster girl from New York City might undo the infamous cad.
Part of the reason he was rethinking “Peter Pan” was because his stage manager brain kicked in gear.
Because of various issues, “we can’t have kids flying in the air.” So without a flying Peter Pan, why have one at all?
Morris wrote the first draft two years ago and worked with Rolston to refine it.
“Where we are now with it is very different from where I started, but we’re both very happy to be there. We’re in a very good place,” he said.
As stage manager, Morris normally has a lot on his plate. He has to make sure everything is in sync from before the curtain is raised until the final bows.
Among those responsibilities is making sure the young cast members are where they’re supposed to be and that they are behaving and paying attention throughout rehearsals and every presentation.
Though any given production can involve pretty young cast members, he said, “You’d be surprised how professional everyone is.”
This month, however, Morris won’t be behind the curtains weaving his magic.
He’ll be in the audience, watching how the boys and girls, children and teens give voice and movement to his words.
“I’ll see it on opening night,” he said, although he admitted getting a sneak preview of one rehearsal and liked what he had seen so far.
Morris isn’t getting out of stage managing, but rather adding to his resume to take another step toward his goal — writing scripts and making movies.
Tickets for “Lost Boys” are $15 and can be purchased by calling 480-644-6500 or going to mesaartscenter.com.