Four years ago, Richard Thomas Folderauer — “Tommy” to his friends and family — was admittedly like many high school freshman, quiet and reserved, maybe a bit unsure of himself.
But the four years at Westminster High School worked a transformation on Folderauer, and few who know him now would describe the graduating senior as a wallflower.
“I was able to become a person who was confident and charismatic and talkative,” he said, ahead of his Wednesday, June 6 graduation.
The key was finding his niche, he said: “The best part of my high school experience has been performing.”
Folderauer has been in 10 of the 12 shows the high school has put on during his time there, including the musical “Catch Me if you Can” this spring, an experience that took acting from something he had dabbled with as a hobby beginning in middle school, to something he’s now considering as a career.
“Tommy is one of the best actors I’ve ever had,” said Westminster drama teacher Melissa Purdy. “He is certainly in the top tier of actors that in 22 years of teaching I have taught. He has an amazing stage presence and is incredibly intuitive when it comes to acting.”
Even naturals have a course of development, however, and Folderauer recalls his hesitant beginnings, not even trying out his freshman year.
“I made excuses of, ‘Oh, it’s high school, I’ll get used to the new work schedule, I don’t have time for a show,’ but really it was just fear,” he said. “The first ever show I ever did, which was one our one-acts, which are senior directed one-act shows, I almost walked out of that audition because I was so nervous, but kept with it, stuck with it, and then from there, got to be where I am now. Lead in a musical.”
The moment it clicked for Folderauer that acting was not just something he had a knack for, but something he could really pursue with his all was during the performance of “Twelve Angry Men” in the fall of his junior year.
“After our second performance of it, I had a close family friend of mine — actually my best friend’s sister — and she came up to me and my best friend who was also in it and she said, ‘that was a really weird show to watch because it felt weird watching what I knew was you two, but being other people.’ She said, ‘you guys were those other people,’” Folderauer said. “I was, ‘all right, I’m going to give it my all. I want to be the lead in a musical, I want to direct; I want to do everything I can here while I’m here.’”
And he would do those things. His directing a one-act play his senior year was Folderauer’s proudest high school moment, as he describes it, while his performing in other one act shows his junior year helped him find his voice, closing the shows with a musical number.
“I kind of broke up with someone in song, that was kind of the gimmick of the show,” he said. “That’s when I discovered my love of singing too, and when I was like, ‘I can do that too! It doesn’t have to just be acting, I’m not just an actor, I can do what they need me to do.’”
Folderauer had always been musical and theatrical, according his mother, Michele Geckle
“In all the home movies we have, Tommy is in front of the camera being silly and funny,” she said. “I guess I should have seen it coming.”
But even his family didn’t realize just what a vocal talent Folderauer possessed until a year ago.
“I didn’t know he could sing the way he can sing until junior year,” Geckle said. She and Folderauer’s grandmother had come to see him perform in the school musical and were blown away.
“Both of our jaws were on the ground,” Geckle said. “And she said, did you know he could sing like that?’ and I said, ‘no.’”
And having seen his talent from the beginning, Geckle also knows how much of Folderauer’s skill has come from hard work and dedication to his craft.
“The thing I am most proud of him about is that ... he works very diligently to overcome any obstacle and he makes it look effortless,” Geckle said. “Tommy makes it look like things just get handed to him. But he works very hard. It’s interesting, it’s a big part of who he is.”
Purdy, too, notes just how hard she has seen Folderauer work to get where he is, not just on stage, but as co-president of the International Thespians Society, the honor society for theater students, where she said he was an excellent leader.
“He’s a natural talent, but he works at it,” Purdy said. “He works at getting it right, or as close to right as he can, and I think that transcends everything that he does. Tommy is very determined to put forth his best effort at whatever he does.”
That extended to his other school activities as well, for as much as acting had become a defining aspect of Folderauers life, he has other interests as well.
“Current events club was a real fun one, and that helped define my love of politics,” he said. “That inspired me to take more social studies classes and just to get a better understanding of world events going on.”
It’s even helped define what’s coming next for him. After a summer spent hanging out with friends, a couple of vacations and a summer job, Folderauer plans to pursue both his passions in college.
“Right now I am going to University of Maryland of College Park,” he said. “I will double major in theater and public policy and see where that takes me.”
But in the meantime, off the stage, Folderauer is also just a high school senior, preparing to walk the stage in cap and gown instead of in character, and he is filled with the common excitement and nervousness.
“I guess what I’ll miss the most is the people who I am going to inevitably lose touch with,” he said of graduating. “People that maybe I won’t reach out to now, or people who, yeah, we’re passing friends, but now that we don’t have a reason to hang out anymore, or to be together, the communication will just die.”
And in the process of reflecting on his time at Westminster High School, he had some thoughts for those juniors about to step into their own senior year at the school.
“My advice to the juniors this year is, try everything. Don’t be afraid to do anything,” he said. “If there is a chance where you have to get in front of the whole school and do something and you know you can do it, but you’re afraid to do it, just do it. You will feel so much better once it’s done, and people will know you for it.”