the Arts

The Arts Red Curtain


The Heart and Soul of the Arts in the Alamo City

By Michelle Vasquez | Photography by David Teran



San Antonio is a city of cultural vibrancy, beauty, education, and entertainment for youth and adults alike.   The excitement of attending live performances is palpable in performers and audiences. Whether it is the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio, Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA), MAGIK Theatre, or OPERA San Antonio (OSA), they all share one thing: bold, empathic, creative, and savvy women lead them. Hear their take on the heart and soul of the arts and its impact on the community.



Vanessa Bessler 

Founder and Artistic Director of the

Children’s Ballet of San Antonio


Vanessa Bessler is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio, established nine years ago. She has been well acquainted with the arts since her childhood. “I have been dancing since the age of four. I started at the National Ballet of Panama, went to school in ballet, and became a principal dancer at age 21.”   

As someone who has experienced dancing from adolescence to adulthood, Vanessa realized she wanted to share this joy with others and started teaching to prepare and influence the next generation of dancers. 

She gets to execute her vision as Artistic Director of the Children’s Ballet and nine-time consecutive winner of Youth America Grand Prix’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year. “The Children’s Ballet helps us nourish and develop the education, love, and engagement of young artists for the art form while at the same time bringing more performing arts to the community to enjoy.”

Vanessa emphasizes that Ballet provides much more than an extracurricular activity. “Ballet is educational and athletic and nurtures your soul with music and movement.”

In her role, Vanessa keeps many plates spinning in the air, orchestrating the productions from the backstage to the front of the house and spotting educational opportunities and programming for the next generation of young artists. “Each generation is different, and we have intentionality and purpose in our programming with them all in mind.” Regarding new programming, a musical theatre program is now part of the organization’s repertoire, meeting sold-out crowds during its first-ever musical premiere. Ballet continues to be central to the nonprofit’s training and major productions.

There is a holistic aspect of training that completes the education of young artists, according to Vanessa. “We provide these artists with professional-level opportunities to perform in big venues to prepare them for the stage and showcase their skills. We polish and complement their talent to match the roles in the production, so they build up confidence and responsibility.”

While some pursue professional degrees in the fine arts, many earn degrees in other fields. What unifies them is their ability to be responsible and persevere with discipline, skills, and development and their excellent sense of network building cultivated through camaraderie, community, and ballet training.

To support the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio, Vanessa encourages families to attend performances and be inspired by the troupe or to donate to the




Julie Post 

Conductor, YOSA Repertory

String Orchestra



Julie Post started her musical career in North East ISD (NEISD), where she played violin from 4th-12th grade in the orchestra program, followed by earning her BME degree from Baylor University in 1995. She credits her love of music and teaching to notable NEISD orchestra directors Melanie Sorgi and Jan Garverick and violin lessons with Craig Sorgi.

Since 2021, Julie has conducted the YOSA Repertory string orchestra, which includes 56 student musicians.  She recently retired from a 29-year orchestra teaching career at NEISD and Alamo Heights ISD.

Julie appreciates seeing kids light up to music, which motivates her to teach. “I just loved being around kids and watching them for the first time opening that instrument case and discovering a world many may never have explored,” she says. Music allows and reinforces lifelong learning, in her opinion. 

To participate in YOSA, young musicians ages 8-20 must audition in early June for the upcoming YOSA season. “It’s exciting to see all of the different personalities come together to make music; it brings you together no matter your playing ability, where you go to school, where you live, or how old you are,” she says.

YOSA reinforces music education and the discipline of consistently attending rehearsals. These young musicians demonstrate commitment and tenacity. While they may spend their weekends at music events and competitions, they show up diligently every Sunday afternoon to practice with their teammates. They are always encouraged to do their best since the time they have to rehearse is limited.

The YOSA Repertory Orchestra meets every Sunday afternoon for a two-hour rehearsal, with the ensemble coming from all over the city and outlying areas. On average, their preparation time is about 2-3 months, depending on the concert cycle schedule, and they will participate in three concerts a year and the grand finale, YOSA Palooza, held at the Tobin Center in May. 

YOSA changes kids’ lives through music. It has 11 ensembles, summer camps, and individual school partnerships and aims to enhance young people’s music education, enrich the community, and influence their lives through music. Julie believes that “they learn about themselves through teamwork and perseverance and enjoy making music together. It combines camaraderie, connection, and music creation with other musicians.” YOSA has built a healthy environmental culture where everyone supports each other.

To learn more about their programming, go to





Melissa Zarb-Cousin 

Managing Director, Magik Theatre



Melissa Zarb-Cousin grew up in San Antonio, attended the Northeast School of the Arts at Robert E Lee High School, and majored in musical theater. Summers were spent interning at the Magik Theater under Richard Rosen, its founder.   

Theatre made a lasting impression on the first-generation American as early as fourth grade, shaping the trajectory of her life by inspiring her to “dream big.”  “I knew that I wanted to pursue theatre and impact young people because I was one of those kids who was saved by the arts and inspired to attend college,” says Melissa. She got a BFA in musical theatre at the College of Santa Fe and lived in New York and Denver before returning to San Antonio.

Motivated to jumpstart her career at Magik, she was a box office coordinator, actor, and grants manager before getting her master’s in nonprofit management. She also had teaching experience and senior-level roles at other nonprofit organizations, focusing on providing educational opportunities to the most underrepresented communities in San Antonio.

Eventually, the managing director position at Magik went through an international search. Melissa applied and, by a unanimous board decision, got the job.

“Coming back to the Magik theater is like being home. “I focus on the fiscal aspects of running the theater and identifying opportunities for educational programming in a dual leadership role alongside the Artistic Director,” says Melissa.

Magik is celebrating 30 years of creative community adventures as a gateway to the arts. “Everybody has an experience that begins with their memories of being at Magik, and now they are bringing their kids, which is exciting,” she says. Melissa’s passion is apparent, and she communicates that the theater is a place for children to “create and dream and motivate a lifelong love of learning. That is what Magik did for me as a young adult, and now it is my turn to provide opportunities for the next generation.”

New things happening at the theatre include commissioning a new work titled Lyric and the Keys. “This repertoire includes three different shows that focus on reading and the challenges that can ensue for young readers,” says” says Melissa. Topics covered include dyslexia, emerging bilingualism, and socio-economic impacts on reading.

Melissa invites you to attend the annual fundraiser, “A Night of Magic Magik,” in Hemisfair Park on September 21st.” 





E. Loren Meeker 

Tobin Endowment

General & Artistic Director of OPERA San Antonio


When you talk to E. Loren Meeker, the Tobin Endowment General & Artistic Director of OPERA San Antonio (OSA) since 2020, you immediately feel her creative energy and her spirit of collaboration and innovation.

Loren comes from a theatrical family but never had opera on her radar. She went to Boston University and received a degree in directing and choreography. After graduating, a friend called her and asked if she wanted to manage an opera stage. The rest is history.

Since then, her trajectory has been a 20-year career, working her way up through the ranks as an assistant stage manager, choreographer, and director, culminating in administration. “It’s been a beautiful journey. What I love about opera is the chance to connect with the community and tell stories on an epic scale. It just feeds my soul,” she says.

In her role, Loren has financial oversight and artistic responsibilities. She balances budgets while planning show titles, selecting sets and costumes, and casting while directing one opera a season at OSA.

When people hear the word opera, they assume things like it is not accessible or is too long. As a company, she acknowledges that OSA is working hard to break those boundaries and sees opportunities in collaborations and partnerships. “Opera is a combination of all art forms. An example is our recent performances of Hansel and Gretel in the fall. The production was produced in collaboration with all five Tobin Center resident companies. It included a children’s chorus, adult singers, dancers, sets, costumes, and orchestra, which made it a community event for everyone,” says Loren.

“We’re also hungry to help other organizations and build up the community by taking our productions, educational programs, and lectures to schools and other community spaces. We host over 80 events a year, “ she says.

OSA provides opportunities to experience grand operas, like Madama Butterfly, presented at the Tobin Center, and smaller-scale works, such as their recent production of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Finally, OSA has announced their 2024/25 Season opening with Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, a Houston Grand Opera work commissioned in 2010 and dubbed the Mariachi Opera. Cruzar will be performed in collaboration with Mariachi Campanas de America on October 3rd and 5th. “The production is modern and only 75 minutes long,” says Loren. “ For more information, go to



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