Why grow up?
What’s the secret to directing a production of Peter Pan with 200 actors, most of them kids? Refusing to grow up helps, says director Monica Folio
“Something wild happens in all my shows,” says Monica Folio with a laugh.
Something wild happens before the shows, too. In fact, something outrageous happens before a single rehearsal takes place. It happens in Folio’s head when she decides to cast a children’s show, not with your average smattering of youngsters who are tumbling, for the first time, headlong into acting, but with 100 actors, many of them children new to acting.
And then she doubles the cast.
Folio’s latest production, Peter Pan, includes two of every character in its cast, with actors switching off for shows. She wants to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to be in the performance and to learn the basics of acting.
Folio, who has been teaching and putting on productions in the Reno area for 12 years and on the East Coast for 30 years before that, now has former students who are acting in commercials and film. One former student—Jena Malone who appeared in such movies as Stepmom and Contact—gets $3 million a picture.
“Directors have called me and said, ‘Your kids know more than the professional actors,’ “ Folio says.
Folio herself has learned from the best. She began dancing at age three, studied tap with Gene Kelly, and later became one of the highest-ranked ballet instructors in the world. When she and her husband, Sam, the executive director of Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, moved to the area, she discovered that there were few theatrical opportunities for elementary school students. Folio began teaching and putting on plays, and three years ago she started Tahoe Players Performing Arts. Last year’s Christmas show was a production of Annie; next year she’ll do Seussical the Musical. But she admits there’s something special about Peter Pan.
”Peter Pan is kind of my show,” she says. “I love the song, ‘I Won’t Grow Up,’ because I never will, of course. It’s boring.”
The world of Peter Pan is hardly a boring one. Folio loves Peter Pan’s message, and the show’s audience seems to love the magic and dramatic tension.
“When Tinker Bell drinks the poison … the audience, at that point, they’re on their feet,” she says. “Because we don’t want anything bad to happen. We want to believe in strong doctors … that there is a God who loves us. If we can have that kind of faith in people, I think the human mind is a wonderfully strong thing.”
Folio feels that it’s a message that the kids naturally pick up by being part of or by seeing the show.
“Kids are like sponges,” she says. “They’ll believe in you if you make them believe in you.”
But the kids don’t just believe in Folio; they believe in their own abilities as well, since Folio is one to turn the spotlight toward the kids and not toward herself.
“I always have said, ‘I’m not a one-man show. There is no star.’ “
Folio also pays close attention to disadvantaged kids. She ensures that children who are economically underprivileged aren’t turned away from the show.
“Some of these kids, it’s what they get for Christmas,” she says.
It may not be a new bike or PlayStation or trip to Disneyland. But for just a little while, kids can get caught up in something bigger than themselves, and maybe the lessons learned in those moments—that one should let innocence and wonder linger well into adulthood—will follow the kids out of the theater and through their fast-changing lives.