‘Peter Pan’ Lead Drew Carlson, a High School Sophomore, is Already ‘Seasoned Veteran of the Stage’


Just a few days ago, the boy who wouldn’t grow up was actually quite the adult – and he was a bully on top of it.

Monmouth-Roseville High School sophomore Drew Carlson has the leading role in Monmouth College’s production of Peter Pan Nov. 16-19, but it was only last weekend when Carlson was Juror No. 3 in Twelve Angry Jurors, an adaptation of the 1954 teleplay Twelve Angry Men, which was staged at MRHS.

“I was the main antagonist,” said Carlson, the son of Monmouth alumni Adam ’04 and Michelle Flaar Carlson ’04. “It was fun, but a little weird, to go from being this jubilant kid in Peter Pan to a super angry adult.”

‘The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.’

“It was kind of a last-minute decision,” said Carlson of taking on simultaneous roles. “I thought, ‘You know what? I might as well try out for (Twelve Angry Jurors).’ I wasn’t expecting to get a major role. And then when I did, I thought, ‘Oh, OK, I can do this.'”

“Drew’s role required a ton of range, as he is the one angrily – and at times potentially violently – arguing in favor of the jury voting guilty,” said MRHS English teacher and director of drama Melissa Agar.

For example, one of his lines was, “Do you think I’m an idiot or something? You lousy bunch of bleeding hearts. You’re not goin’ to intimidate me.”

Definitely not something Peter Pan – a character much more similar to the vibe Carlson exudes – would say.

“Being as nice as he is, I knew it would be a good challenge for him as an actor to tackle a role so outside of his personality,” said Agar. “He took the challenge really seriously.”

To help her cast better understand the play, Agar had the actors write biographies of their characters.

“That seemed to allow Drew to tap into who HE thought this character was and what was motivating him and then develop it from there,” said Agar. “It was a really lovely thing to witness.”

‘Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?’

Being a major character in two plays meant attending the lion’s share of two different rehearsals each day.

“I’d go to school, and then right after that go to Twelve Angry Jurors,” he said. “Then I’d have 30 or 45 minutes for dinner, and then I’d go to Peter Pan. In the last few days, those rehearsals have been going to 11 at night, but most of the time we’d get out at 10 or 10:30.”

That type of adventure doesn’t leave much time for homework, let alone dinner, but Carlson said not to worry.

“I’m very on top of my grades, and all of my teachers are very understanding,” he said.

“Drew is leading our company as Peter Pan and is just incredible,” said Monmouth theatre professor Todd Quick. “Only 15 years old, but already a seasoned veteran of the stage. As an 11-year-old, he starred in the last community production I directed, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. He played the young Dylan Thomas.”

Audiences will also remember Carlson as one of Ursula’s henchmen on roller skates in The Little Mermaid.

“He’s the most energetic, enthusiastic, tireless performer that you can imagine,” said Quick, who referenced the dual roles. “There’s been no rest for Drew, but he was the first one off book, the first one to rehearsal.”

“Professor Quick is very reassuring,” said Carlson, who reflected on his first experience on the College’s stage four years ago. “Every rehearsal, I knew it was a safe space.”

That helped convince his parents that their boy would be OK.

“They were quite nervous for it,” said Carlson, whose interest in the stage was sparked by seeing the College’s 2017 production of Meet Me in St. Louis.

‘I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go.’

Thanks to support from its community partners, the College contracted St. Louis-based On the Fly Productions to ensure that the flying in Peter Pan would actually get off the ground, as opposed to relying on imagination.

“The flying is phenomenal – it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” said Carlson. “Not a lot of people get to do something like that.”

For every actor that gets up, up and away in the production – flying higher than 20 feet – Carlson explained that there are at least two crew members, and sometimes three, assisting with the process.

‘If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing.’

Carlson’s uber-busy schedule will ease quite a bit when the final curtain closes on Peter Pan, but that doesn’t mean he’ll take the rest of his sophomore year off.

“We have the Madrigal dinner coming up, which is for the top choir at the high school, and then me and one other (MRHS student) will be singing in the all-state honors choir in January,” said Carlson. “And then after that, we’ll have our spring show at the high school, which is Once Upon a Mattress.”

And then Carlson will commence with the second half of his high school years. As that time draws to a close, he’ll focus more on college. He called his parents’ alma mater “a great option,” but added, “I have no idea,” where he’ll wind up. But studying music education, with the goal of teaching and leading a choir, is his goal.

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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