At 86 years old, Vivian Fusillo is retiring — or, as she puts it, “graduating” — from her position as a director and professor in the Theatre and Dance department at Winona State University (WSU). Fusillo is directing the classic, "Peter Pan," for a third and final time this October.
Photo by Jen Burris
Vivian Fusillo, director of WSU’s upcoming production of "Peter Pan," discusses details with her stage manager, Anthony Stewart, during a rehearsal. The play opens on October 10.
“It’s a perfect last play; it’s about not wanting to grow up, and to have fun,” Fusillo said of her final selection.
Fusillo has taught and directed students at WSU since 1968. About 43 of those 45 years have been spent in charge of the university’s Theater for Young Audiences annual performance.
Vivian has worked on 111 plays; her favorites have been the 45 children’s shows she’s directed. Approximately 3,000 school children are expected to come to see "Peter Pan." The students enjoy watching the plays as much, if not more, than Vivian enjoys putting them on; one year, W-K students walked all the way to the Performing Arts Center on the WSU campus to view one of Fusillo’s children’s plays.
One of Fusillo's favorite memories arises from a previous performance of “Peter Pan.” She made a point of sitting with the children, in different spots throughout the theater during performances. Fusillo was sitting next to a young boy when Peter Pan asked, "Do you believe in fairies? Clap if you believe.”
“He jumped up so high that he fell down on the concrete,” Fusillo said. “I grabbed for him, trying to help him up, but he shook me off ferociously, shouting 'I believe in fairies!' as he stood back up to clap.”
Cast members speak highly of Fusillo, explaining how important she has been in creating and maintaining theater for children. Anthony Schliesman, a WSU junior, has worked with Fusillo in the past, and plays Captain Hook in this year's "Peter Pan."
“Vivian has worked so hard, not just on this play, but throughout her career,” Schliesman said. “I hope everyone can see that.”
He says that “Peter Pan,” was what got him interested in theater as a child.
“The first time I saw a play, it was ‘Peter Pan.’” Schliesman noted that “Peter Pan,” and similar plays, may be performed for children, but they really are for everyone.
“This play will bring nostalgia back like a punch to the face,” Schliesman noted.
Stage manager Anthony Stewart, a senior at WSU, has worked with Fusillo on several plays, often as a lighting or set designer. He has worked so closely with Fusillo on “Peter Pan” that he’s adapted some of her terminology, like “graduating,” rather than retiring.
Stewart notes how great it has been working with Vivian, who has such a mastery of the arts. With Fusillo leaving, Stewart worries about the future of the children’s theater program.
“I'm afraid the children’s shows might be put on the back burner, once Vivian graduates,” Stewart said.
Fusillo has touched the lives of community members over the years, inspiring many to become more involved in theater. The cast for her final play includes both experienced actors and people new to the stage.
“I’m so glad I get to end with this,” she added.
Four public performances will be offered, three at 7 p.m., on October 10, 11, and 12, and a matinee at 2 p.m., on October 12. Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for students, and $4 for children 13 and under. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.wsuartstickets.com.