WALNUT CREEK -- Not only were 300 young spectators of Fantasy Forum's musical version of "Cinderella" thrilled to see a favorite fairy tale come to life recently, but many of them were overjoyed to experience their first-ever live theater performance.
It came courtesy of the Arts Access School Time Program, a program of the Diablo Regional Arts Association, which provides free theater tickets and transportation to students in underserved schools in Contra Costa County.
"We are very grateful to the generous individual and business donors who make this program possible," said association Executive Director Peggy White. "Not only do they support us financially, but for this show, Target employees also volunteered to help coordinate the students as their buses arrived."
At the May 2 performance of "Cinderella" at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center, young students from Pittsburg's Heights Elementary School and Concord's Ygnacio Valley Elementary and Sun Terrace Elementary schools attended, as did developmentally disabled adults from Concord High School and Concord's Bridge Program.
"Our students get so excited," said Ygnacio Valley third-grade teacher Kari Zeller. "For 90 percent of our kids, this is the only performing arts experience that they will have. If it wasn't for the funding, we wouldn't be able to come."
Diablo Regional Arts Association also provided customized study guides to help teachers tie the performance to in-class discussions and projects.
"The children created a circle map before we came," said first-grade teacher Carissa Patague from Heights Elementary. "They put Cinderella in the center and the other characters around her. When we get back, they'll add more things from what they saw during the show."
Now in its 41st season, Fantasy Forum Actor's Ensemble has lots of experience making live performances special for young audiences. The talented performers wander through the audience before the show, talking with students and making them comfortable. A number of lucky audience members sit on the stage, with many of them also handing props to the actors throughout the show. And everyone has to help the Fairy Godmother turn a cantaloupe (pumpkins being out of season) into a beautiful carriage by shouting "I believe in dreams" three times.
"It's just amazing to have this program and to see the children react during the show," said Cherie Gann, who teaches second grade at Sun Terrace Elementary School. "We read different versions of 'Cinderella' before the show, so it will be fun to talk with them afterward about this version."
As the show was about to begin, Lena -- one of the mean stepsisters -- came through the audience and spoke with a young girl from Heights Elementary saying how she couldn't wait to try on the glass slipper and wed the prince. The young girl turned to her friend and said, "She's going to be disappointed. Her foot is way too big."
The Arts Access program began in 2007 with seed money donated by Barclay Simpson of Simpson Strong-Tie. Since then, more than 6,000 students in such areas as Concord's Monument Corridor, Richmond and Bay Point have enjoyed live performances and visual arts exhibitions.
For more information on Diablo Regional Arts Association and its mission, go to www.draa.org
Contact Sally Hogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org