Vilar reaches for the STARS |

Vilar reaches for the STARS

Cassie Pence

Growing up in upstate New York, Martha Brassel remembers going to the opera as early as age 7. But for Vail Valley children, she says, that scenario is just not as realistic.Brassel coordinates STARS, Support the Arts Reaching Students, which is an educational outreach program of the Vilar Center for the Arts. Through STARS, Brassel helps local students go to the theater. Completing its sixth season this year, STARS sent 3,400 Eagle County students to the Vilar Center to experience plays, chamber and choral music, dance and even Shakespeare. “For many, it is their first experience at the theater,” Brassel says. “Their eyes just pop, and some get dressed to the nine. The kids are just beaming, and they leave singing.”

The STARS series chooses productions that builds upon Eagle County’s curriculum. Children enjoyed Mermaid Theatre’s “Very Eric Carle,” a production which plays upon the magic of blacklight to capture the charm of three favorite Eric Carle stories, all of which the children read before seeing the show. TheatreWorksUSA’s “Sarah, Plain and Tall” was another favorite among students. A musical based on Patricia MacLachlan’s Newberry award-winning book, kids were able to discuss the two mediums afterward, comparing what was different and which one they liked better.”It enriches their education,” Brassel says. In the future, Brassel hopes to work even more closely with the schools’ curriculum.The caliber of the production companies performing for these young first-timers is quite high. The Acting Company enlivened Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and the Kennedy Center illustrated with dance the centuries-old Chinese story retold by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Nightingale.” Interactive learning like this doesn’t dissipate fast, Brassel says.Red Hill Elementary first-grade teacher LInda Feucht agrees when she writes: “‘Good Night Opus’ was a perfect example of how to create a fairy tale. It also helped students understand how to present a play. One objective in the first grade curriculum is to act out a play. We have the students present a fairy tale that they wrote. The first grade fairy tale plays were the best plays yet. Being able to watch professional plays at the Vilar Center attributed to the success of the plays.”It costs the VIlar Center, a nonprofit organization, $35,000 to run the STARS program. It relies on generous contributions and internal fund-raising efforts to underwrite the tickets for the students. Aside from tickets, Vilar must also pay for the actors’ lodging and transportation, staff to run the production and the production itself.”We’re struggling to keep it going, but we are not letting it go,” Brassel says. “If it weren’t for STARS, some of these kids wouldn’t be exposed to theater at such a young age. It inspires them.”

To make a contribution to the STARS program, contact Martha Brassel at 748-6651.Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555 XT. 618, or

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