“There can be tales within a tale,” announced children’s story reader Miss Anastasia to an audience of 1,500 elementary students, parents, and teachers filling the seats at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday morning.
The line was from an adaption of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by children’s author Lois Burdett, performed for the second year as part of the San Antonio Symphony’s Young People’s Concerts series.
The Young People’s Concerts are the Symphony’s tale within a tale, a lesser-known facet of its annual performance season sprinkled among major concerts. The Wednesday concert was one of six performed within two weeks, with two concerts at St. Philip’s College and four concerts at the Tobin Center, including bilingual performances narrated by poet Carmen Tafolla on Friday.
In total, 7,500 area elementary students will attend the concerts, said Jeremy Brimhall, the symphony’s director of education. With four Young People’s Concert programs per year, the program reaches 35,000 students annually, he said.
“One of these tales, [is] of fairies – tiny, magical creatures,” Miss Anastasia continued as young members of the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio took the stage to briefly flutter about in purple tutus and silver dragonfly wings. Narrators from the Classic Theatre appeared in several roles to complement Miss Anastasia’s storytelling.
In costume, actor Christopher James Dick pantomimed two roles, Oberon and Duke Theseus, as did Eliza Sell of the ballet, who danced the roles of Queen Hippolyta and Titania. Together, the actors and dancers played out the fanciful story spun by the combined voices of Shakespeare, Burdett, Miss Anastasia, and narrators, punctuated with music by the orchestra.
Maggie Green drove from New Braunfels for the concert with her mother Karen, kids Samson and Seirsha Carrillo, aged 7 and 2, and three other homeschooling families. The Greens were continuing a longstanding family tradition of attending the Symphony’s Young People’s Concerts.
“I grew up coming to these performances for 10 years when I was a kid. I loved it,” Green said. The family members take advantage of supplementary texts and educational materials provided by Brimhall in partnership with Burdett’s QWILL Media & Education Inc., to familiarize themselves with the play ahead of time.
Samson said he enjoyed when the character Nick Bottom, played by dancer Zella McNichols, is transformed into a donkey by the mischievous Puck, played by dancer Lucy Hassman. The entire audience reacted enthusiastically to the donkey’s loud cries of “Ee-yaw! Ee-yaw!” by Miss Anastasia.
The Greens were among several dozen homeschool families attending the Wednesday concert, among elementary students from two dozen public and private schools around San Antonio.
Fourth-grade math teacher Valerie Zamora from Schulze Elementary School said she brings her students every year, thanks to arrangements made by music teacher Patrick Schultz.
Zamora said that because many Title I elementary schools, which serve low-income students, have had to cut back on arts education, the concerts are exposure to things her students normally don’t get to see, “like the music, the play that we just saw.”
The concerts amount to more than just entertainment, she said. “I had a student right next to me tell me ‘Wow, Miss, they’re using similes and metaphors!’ So I guess [they’re] making the connection from the classroom to the real world.”
Symphony Board Chair Kathleen Weir Vale was also in attendance. Vale said the great thing about the Young People’s Concerts is not only that the students get to know Shakespeare’s works, but that “they learn history, they learn literature, they learn music, they learn costuming, they learn drama, they learn dance – all these disciplines coming together.”
Advance registration for Young People’s Concerts is required for student groups. Schools interested in participating can learn more about the program through the Symphony’s website.