‘Dora’ actress Oliveras sings, dances, acts in roleWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
For a generation of kids (and their parents), Dora the Explorer is the globe’s most famous cartoon adventurer. After eight years, more than 100 episodes and billions of dollars in merchandise, Dora is as recognizable as her Disney and Sesame Street counterparts. It’s fitting that Dora’s messages of exploration and ecology tour the country for live shows, just as Mickey Mouse and Elmo do.
“Dora the Explorer and the City of Lost Toys will bring the intrepid character and her animal friends to the Stranahan Theater on Feb. 3 and 4.
Brooklyn native Susan Oliveras plays Dora onstage. Oliveras studied at the “Fame” high school,
the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York. She has worked in touring companies and in productions aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. She recently spoke with Toledo Free Press from rehearsals, before her first performance as Dora.
Toledo Free Press: How familiar were you with the character before you won the role?
Susan Oliveras: I was pretty familiar with her. I have two nieces and one nephew who grew up with Dora, and I knew what was going on.
TFP: Because Dora is a rock star to the kids …
SO: Absolutely! I see my nieces and nephews react to her when she’s on TV. We sing the songs in the car, and they love her.
TFP: This isn’t like performing Hamlet in front of John Gielgud, but there’s a great responsibility to how you perform this role for all these children. Is that intimidating?
SO: It’s not intimidating, but I do recognize the responsibility that I have; this isn’t just some character no one’s heard of. Dora has a history and following, and I have to stay true to her character, her nature, everything the original creators of the television show want her to be. It is a challenge, but I am more than ready.
TFP: How did your nieces and nephew react when you won the part?
SO: The two who are old enough to know what’s going on are very excited. They’ve seen me in children’s theater before, but not as an established character they love, so they are super-excited. I’m kind of hoping the real little one doesn’t recognize my face and can suspend her disbelief.
TFP: This is a very physical role.
SO: It’s very interactive with the audience, and just for that part, one has to be very energetic and upbeat. It’s important to grab their attention and get them into it. It demands a lot of energy. I am talking, singing, dancing and reacting, sometimes all in the same few moments. It’s a joy to do and very fulfilling. I lucked out with this role; it incorporates everything I love to do.
TFP: Dora is a child, but obviously a very learned one. How do you combine those characteristics?
SO: Dora knows a lot. But I find that children in general know a lot. Dora is very curious and adventurous, and all those traits have to be portrayed, but through the eyes of a child. It’s a delicate balance, and I hope I do it well.
TFP: Dora is a pioneering force as a mainstream Hispanic character on a children’s show.
SO: More and more shows are incorporating diverse nationalities. For this role, I can highlight the nationality, and it is still wide open to all the kids in the audience. I can fall back on my background and reference that and help keep Dora true to the great example she is.
TFP: How do you manage the choreography with the puppets and large costumes?
SO: It’s … interesting. They’re not human size, and they have long tails, so it takes some getting to used to. It requires some imagination. The actor who plays Boots the monkey has to incorporate monkey-like physicality to make it believable. It has to be interesting for the parents to watch as well, and that adds another dimension to the performance.
TFP: There’s a plus in playing Dora in that you could do five shows a day in a city and still go out and not be mobbed by Dora fans.
SO: That is a benefit. I can keep my own personality on my time and still show up to work and have screaming fans!