SAN ANTONIO — Two milestones will be celebrated when "The Velveteen Rabbit" opens at Magik Theatre on Saturday.
The first is that 2022 marks 100 years since the holiday-season tale about a young child and the stuffed rabbit they get for Christmas first debuted, in the form of a children's book by author Margery Williams. The second is that it will mark Rosa Gardner's directorial debut, after performing in 20 previous Magik productions and working behind the scenes on others.
It isn't something she was expecting when she arrived at the children's theater in 2016. But like the toy at the center of "The Velveteen Rabbit" comes to find, destinations have a way of revealing themselves over time.
"There was a little bug that hit me, probably two years ago, that made me say, 'I think I need to push myself,'" she said.
As Gardner puts it, she's worn many hats in her six years with Magik (sometimes, in the case of "Charlotte's Web," she's worn a pig's ears), including her current full-time role as one of the company's two artistic associates.
She still acts, having recently played the lead in "Junie B. Jones: Toothless Wonder" last summer. But when plans shifted and an opportunity opened up to direct "The Velveteen Rabbit," Gardner stepped up to the plate—embarking on the roughly month-long process of rehearsals, set construction and technical planning.
She remembers as a child seeing the book on her family shelf, and while she doesn't have memories of "sitting on my mom's lap and reading it," the story had a way of sticking with her.
"It's one that my mom loves. When I told her I was directing it she cried with excitement," Gardner said. "It was wild to read it again and be like, 'Oh yeah, I know this story. I've known this story a long time.'"
It isn't many stories that endure for a century, sometimes making their ways to other mediums or genres altogether. The heartwarming simplicity and intergenerational impact of "The Velveteen Rabbit" in particular makes it ripe for innovation, and Gardner says Magik does intend to put its own twist on the tale eventually.
"But creating a new show can take quite some time," she said. "That really had an effect on what I chose to do with this production. All the work we had put in so far helped us see the many ways the story can be told, and we got to dig really deep into the themes... allowing yourself to be loved, and how it can wear you down in ways that are worth it."
Not that this particular run of "The Velveteen Rabbit" doesn't have some originality of its own. John Michael Hoke created new music for the Magik's production, while intricate shadows, lighting and projection will immerse audiences into a child character's imagination.
That creative drive, Gardner says, comes from constant self-reminders never to get too comfortable with any given show. Instead, she and her team strive to bring an element of rediscovery to every production—both for themselves and for audiences.
"That's something wonderful that I've been able to learn: to make sure to always rediscover, find ways to keep it fresh even if you're doing it over and over again," she said.
It isn't lost on Gardner that her artistic evolution at Magik unfolded at a time when the theater – like so many other organizations like it around San Antonio and the country – experienced its own pandemic-era changes, pivoting to livestreamed shows and a need to be flexible amid lulls and surges in COVID-19 cases.
The Magik team, she says, is more tight-knit as a result.
"It's a real gift to be here and do what I do," Gardner added. "I kind of tear up every day, thinking about how it all comes together in life in ways you don't expect."
"The Velveteen Rabbit" opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 24, including special dates for ASL-interpreted shows; sensory-friendly performances; and pay-what-you-can performances. Tickets are $23.50.
>TRENDING ON KENS 5 YOUTUBE: