Children and their families are lining up across the country to see “Dora Live,” an interactive adventure that leads Dora the Explorer, her cousin Diego, Boots the monkey, and all their friends on a fun-filled journey in “Search for the City of Lost Toys.” As it prepares to open in my home town of Washington D.C., I was able to interview the performers who portray both Dora and Diego, who told me how much they enjoy appearing in a show that has such an enthusiastic audience.
Susan Oliveras plays Dora, the curious and adventuresome young explorer.
Tell me about what you were doing before Dora.
I am a Brooklyn native, born and raised, and I went to the performing arts high school, the “Fame” school. I got my bachelor’s in music from Five Towns College. After I graduated I started auditioning for any show and I’ve been on the road ever since. I did a couple of seasons with “Sesame Street Live” and got to tour the world, then I did Royal Caribbean cruises as a singer-dancer. Then I came home and start auditioning for other things.
Was the audition for Dora different from others?
Yes! It was a lot of fun because you get to play around at the audition and a different tone because of the nature of the show. So everyone was just very very friendly and playful. I would go in and sing pop songs, and then they asked me to sing a selection from the show. They played it for me a couple of times, and I sang it on the spot and then I did a dance audition and then I had to come back and do it for the director, and then come back again and do it for the producer and director.
Is this a show with a story and songs?
In some ways it is exactly like a musical that any adult would see. It has a story line told with characters and music. Dora has lost her teddy bear, her favorite toy, and she goes on a journey to find it through the number pyramid, the mixed-up jungle, and then the City of Lost Toys, which has every toy ever lost by any child, so that’s like the golden city. And she has her friends, Boots the monkey, her best friend and cousin Diego, and of course her map and backpack.
What does Dora’s famous backpack look like in the show?
It’s taller than me! It is a huge prop with someone inside operating it, making the mouth and eye movement and an actor doing the voice.
What is the audience reaction like to the show?
I don’t need a career as a rock star because I feel like I’ve had that! They’re screaming — of course in delight, calling Dora’s name as soon as I step on stage. They know all the songs and sing along. They come in their Dora gear, t-shirts and sometimes dressed like the characters. In Chicago I looked in the audience and someone was dressed in a Boots costume. It was adorable!
Is that distracting?
The show thrives on audience participation. The story could not move on if the children don’t respond to the questions we are asking. We encourage them to shout it out — this is a place where you don’t have to raise your hand and be called on. I can really hear their answers and respond to them and react to them.
We started at the end of January and do about two cities a week. It is exhausting but rewarding. It sounds corny but it is absolutely true that I thrive off the energy and enthusiasm from the audience.
For many young kids it’s their first theater experience and it’s a great part of the American culture to see a live show and support the arts. It is exciting to me to help spark a new found love for performance like the things I saw that inspired me to become a performer.
The thing that actually did it for me, when I was eight and saw a musical number on the Tony awards. It just clicked in my head that that was a job, that people having fun singing and dancing and dressing up in costume — that was what they did to earn money. I decided that was what I wanted to do. Forget it, I was hooked!
Antonio Vargas plays Diego, Dora’s animal-loving cousin.
Tell me about your background.
I am from Puerto Rico and started performing at 6 because I went to a school that had a very strong performing arts program, part of our curriculum. I went to college in Boston then went home and taught drama to elementary school children. I came to NY 3 ½ years ago and began working in children’s theater and auditioning.
How important is a performing arts curriculum?
Very important! Even if it is not what you end up doing. The program I attended has helped everybody in their career choices, giving them self-confidence and communication skills.
How does children’s theater differ from theater for adults?
First I will tell you how they are alike! In both, at the end of the day we’re telling a story, a problem and a resolution. But working in children’s theater the energy and enthusiasm of the audience is different — not better, just different — in their response. It is very palpable and one of the things that keeps me going, giving me the joy of going back to work the next day.
Kids are very honest. If they don’t like you they don’t like you. These characters are like the rock stars of our day. Bringing the character of Diego to life is an honor and a huge blessing. I feel that everything in my life has led up to this moment and this part of God’s plan for me.
What is Diego’s role in the story?
When Dora comes to the mixed-up jungle, she goes to the rain forest and Diego is the adventure boy who loves to rescue animals. He sings and educates kids about how to communicate with animals. I get to interact with hand-puppets, body puppets and people in full body costumes.
What is the audience like?
Every city is different and even in different performances on the same day the audience reacts differently. In the show, Diego loses his friend the baby jaguar and when he re-appears there is no more looking at Diego, everyone just adores him. The audience is submerged into that scene completely. In the song I ask them questions. At first when they weren’t responding as big as they respond to everything in the show I wondered if they were not getting what I was doing but I realized they’re just really involved in the whole experience.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
One of the joys of doing the show is that it is so much fun to perform. You start discovering different moments throughout the run. Keeping it real and staying in the moment is easier to do because the audience reaction reminds you that they are very excited about what you are about to do, very involved. My favorite part changes all the time but one favorite is my entrance, swinging on a vine!