When Shelley Duvall was growing up in Houston, her second-grade class went downtown to see the symphony. To hear Duvall tell it, the experience changed her life. "Classical music, for me, inspired interest in the sciences and mathematics [it] really opens your eyes to the world, even though it's your ears getting all the nourishment. Your whole body responds."
Duvall now wants to bring that experience to the next generation of listeners as guest of honor for Once Upon a Toon, an evening of music, puppetry, storytelling and animation. Between acting, producing five television series and juggling other projects, Duvall, it seems, would have little time for this kind of event, but she insists she required little needling from creators Robin McKenzie and OrchestraX conductor John Axelrod to jump on board. "When I saw some of the footage of what they did.They talked me into it in about ten seconds flat."
Duvall is especially impressed by Axelrod's innovative ideas for keeping classical new. "Using the music of cartoons, we'll reach children," Duvall says. "Unlike many other forms of music, [classical] really does inspire visions and visual images which is perhaps why it was chosen to illustrate cartoons in the first place." In keeping with the Bugs Bunny concept, one OrchestraX performance features a 20-minute computer-animated video created by 60 students at the Art Institute of Houston over six months.
Duvall introduces The Ant and the Magic Donkey, written and performed by the Almanza family of Houston, the first of a series of children's stories optioned by Duvall's mother's production company, Apex. The collaboration resulted when Duvall's mother met Lynn Almanza on a plane, and heard about her family's tradition of creating stories. "Mother suggested that they write a story about two animals and they were so good, they kept writing more and more," Duvall says.
One of the story's life-size puppets is operated by Almanza's sister, Elsa Garcia, the Grammy-nominated Tejano singer. OrchestraX members accompany the story with symphonic works. "The music sort of rises organically out of the dialogue."
In the end, however, Duvall sees an appreciation of art as unavoidable. "What would life be like without music, without painting, without television, without movies? It's in our genes.I don't think we could go without it." Once Upon a Toon is Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2, at 7 p.m. $28; $10 for students; free for children six and under. Children's Museum, 1500 Binz. For more info, call (713)225-6729.