A Big Dream and a Little Pixie Dust
Mizzou alumna stars as Wendy Darling in new Web series.
Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, Wendy Darling was hesitant and Paula Rhodes is really glad she did. The Missouri native and Mizzou alumna now stars as Wendy Darling in The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy. Based on the novel Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie, the twice-weekly Web series is a romantic comedy that chronicles the modern-day lives of Peter Pan; siblings Wendy, Michael and John Darling; and friend Lily Bagha (think Tiger Lily).
While a journalism student at Mizzou, Rhodes thought being a professional actor was a pipe dream. A Delta Gamma member, Rhodes performed in Homecoming and Greek Week skits, but it wasn’t until she entered the Miss Junior Missouri pageant on a whim, mostly to amuse her friends, that her dream seemed attainable. At 5 feet tall, she’s not the stereotypical pageant queen. But she excelled in the interview and took home the crown, earning her a spot in the Miss Junior America pageant a few weeks later. To everyone’s amazement, including her father’s, Rhodes won that crown, too.
“When they announced my name as a winner, you could hear my dad call out, ‘What!’ ” Rhodes recalls. “I was equally as surprised.”
The win put Rhodes on a path to New York where she studied with an acting coach while working for a talent agency, casting director and advertising agency.
“I never wanted to be the girl who didn’t know what a union was,” Rhodes says of her years learning the business side of the acting industry. “I realized that women who were able to produce or create their own content had longer careers and seemed happier. I learned how to produce stuff so I could create roles for myself.”
Rhodes also realized singing and dancing were not her forte, so she swapped New York for Los Angeles, where she quickly landed her first commercial, a 2005 King Kong-themed Burger King spot. Rhodes started booking commercials and voice roles in cartoons, video games and Web series.
“Being as most people still don’t know my name, I haven’t had the classic big break,” Rhodes says. “But in my own definition, as soon as I could afford my bills doing what I love, I thought that was amazing.”
When Rhodes heard about the Peter + Wendy transmedia project, she knew she wanted to be part of it. “Transmedia adds depth,” Rhodes says of the new technique in storytelling. “You have the Web series, and some people will just watch the show. But then you offer people who want more other avenues [to engage.]”
Those avenues include launching a website for the fictitious newspaper where the show’s characters work, allowing viewers to sign up to be residents of Neverland and creating Twitter accounts for Peter Pan, Wendy, et al.
“This is the way storytelling is going,” Rhodes says.
The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy premiered May 9 on YouTube and has been airing new episodes every Wednesday and Friday. The first season is 24 episodes long, and Rhodes says there are plans for a season two and three.
“This is a character I loved growing up, and the script was so, for lack of a better word, darling,” Rhodes says. “This experience really has been magical.”