The SFArtsED Summer production of Oklahoma! tonight, July 23, 2012 will be "rousing, beautiful and everything this classical musical should be." Accompanied by the 30-piece UC Berkeley Summer Symphony, the young performers, ranging in age from 9 to 19 will make this one of the can’t-miss events of the summer. The show is at 7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., San Francisco.
What’s really interesting about this one-night-only benefit production is what’s going on behind the scenes.
The end result of an intensive summer program, this Oklahoma! features a wide array of San Francisco Arts Education Project students.
• In the lead roles are alumni of the Artists-in-Residence programs in San Francisco public schools as well as from after-school and extracurricular programs. As returning older students, some in high school, some in college, they serve as mentors to the younger students.
• In supporting roles are members of the SFArtsED Players, a youth musical theater program.
• And in the ensemble are students from the SFArtsED Summer 2012 Broadway Bound program, some of whom are making their stage debuts.
The young performers, all 70 of them, are accompanied by the 30-member UC Berkeley Summer Symphony Orchestra conducted by Music Director Henry Shin. The production is directed by Danny Duncan, a celebrated local director and writer who has worked with SFArtsED for more than 20 years.
The creative team includes veterans of SFArtsED programs: SFArtsED Artistic Director Emily Keeler, consulting musical director Vince Peterson, accompanist Sean Forte, choreographers Natalie Greene and Erin Hewitt and costume designer Linda Ricciardi.
“Bringing our SFArtsED alums back to star in our summer show with the Berkeley Summer Symphony, our current Players and summer campers closes a circle,” Keeler says. “The older performers are the leads in the show but also serve as models and mentors for the younger kids. That synergy in the process gives the summer performances a special sense of family, of continuity and magic. The directors and I always look forward to this reunion each summer with our past students because they remind us all how important it is to create and support artists with skills and generosity of spirit.”
SFArtsED alumnus Deionté Coates is back for the summer all the way from Virginia, working with students before he heads into the Navy as a nuclear technician. He’s assisting the performing arts teachers at summer camp and will perform in Oklahoma! as Will Parker
“SFArtsED meant a lot to me,” Coates says. “It taught me how to be a better performer and how to interact with many different kinds of people. Without it, I don't think I would have the courage to be so open to so many people.”
Working with the students, he adds, makes him happy. “Seeing them in the shoes I once wore, young and eager to perform, lets me know that one day, these kids will come to appreciate performing on the same level that I do now. I also realize this experience contributes to your growth no matter what career path you choose.”
Alex Colter, who is going into his junior year at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) as a classical voice major, says his time with SFArtsED was a “passageway from youth to professional artist.” Colter will be in the ensemble of Oklahoma! and serve as the company’s dance captain.
“Without SFArtsED,” Colter says, “I would not be who or where I am today. Coming back to teach really opens my eyes to how we were treated so professionally, like real performers. So being on the other side at camp, I feel like it’s my duty, like it was for the teachers who taught me, to teach these kids how to be stars.”
Anisa Henry, entering her sophomore year at SOTA this fall, remembers looking up to the returning alumni when she performed with them in previous summer productions of Carousel and Guys and Dolls.
“I have always wanted to be that person that the kids look up to and now I'm one of them,” Henry says. “It may sound a bit conceited, but it’s true. Being one of the people whom young performers want to be like is an extraordinary thing. I was the kid who admired so many others and who wanted to be exactly like all the alumni who were in Carousel and Guys and Dolls. I can't wait to work with all the young performers on Oklahoma!”