Cultural Activities, Theater

The Journal of Ben Uchida- Oregon Children’s Theatre

This past weekend was super busy and fun and we completely wore ourselves out- in the best way possible. Right in the middle of everything, we had the opportunity to see the opening show of The Journal of Ben Uchida at Oregon Children’s Theatre.

DSC01193

The Journal of Ben Uchida was originally a book, and the story has been adapted for the stage. It tells the story of 12-year-old Ben and his family. Ben, his sister, and his father are Japanese Americans who were born in the United States while his mother was born in Japan. The play begins with introducing us to the family, their interests, their relationships, and their family business. We see their routines, their lives, and their connection to each other and their community.

And then things change. Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Japanese Americans are given an order to pack one suitcase, leave their homes, and report to an internment camp. We see and hear the media messages about Japanese Americans and see the changes in how the family is treated by their community members. We then travel by train with the family to their assigned internment camp and witness their life in the camp.

The Journal of Ben Uchida is definitely deeper and heavier than any show we have previously seen there. It is beautifully designed and acted, and it touches on many topics relevant to today. We are provided with moments to witness the impact of being repeatedly exposed to hate, racism, and hurtful words. Issues related to media messaging, institutionalized racism, discriminatory government policies and actions, suicide, and family stress are all addressed in an hour. It’s a lot to take in.

Oregon Children’s Theatre typically has a scavenger hunt or other activities prior to the show. This show has an impactful art installation that includes informative panels containing historically accurate information as well has thousands of tags with the names and ID numbers of individuals placed in the internment camps. I found it very interesting, and Chicken was interested in the name tags. Nugget was not particularly engaged. The installation is definitely worth seeing, but you do not need to allocate as much time as you would for their typical activities.

DSC01198

Oregon Children’s Theatre recommended this show for ages 10 and up. Chicken is just a few months shy of that age, but is in one of the grade levels they are targeting for school matinees. Nugget is younger, and I knew going in that a lot of it would go over his head. And it did.

I would actually recommend this show for middle school and up. Both Chicken and Nugget easily sat through the hour-long show, and there was nothing I felt uncomfortable with them seeing. However, I felt like Chicken did not grasp all of the subtleties of the show. Middle and high school students would be more likely to have the background knowledge and cultural awareness to get more out of the show.

This show is definitely not just for kids. We saw several adults in the audience, and I think adults would get just as much from seeing the show (if not more), than students.

So….

What it’s not: for young children, a graphic depiction of suicide (I don’t think Chicken or Nugget put together that’s what happened, and it even took me a minute to figure it out)

What it is: beautifully done, timely, relevant, an important conversation starter, great for middle school students and older

Do we recommend it: If you are looking for a conversation starter about race and discrimination, this is a fantastic stepping stone- especially for older children who are able to explore at a deeper level

The show is running until March 22, 2020 and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.octc.org/#index

Cultural Activities, Theater

The Jungle Book- Northwest Children’s Theater

This Saturday was a doozy. We headed downtown to Northwest Children’s Theater (NWCTS) for their current production- The Jungle Book. This show happened to have a Girl Scouts workshop associated with it, and Chicken was excited to participate.

DSC01155

Chicken has attended a few of the Girl Scout workshops and has always had a fabulous time. For $22, the kids get to participate in an hour long workshop, a supervised lunch break, and watch the show together. In this case, the girls worked together to develop and perform dances related to the show. They also often get to see backstage or visit the costume or prop area. Chicken is always excited to share some new secret insider information with us. We definitely recommend them to any Girl Scouts out there!

But back to the show. After dropping Chicken off, Nugget thoroughly beat me at a game of chess while we waited for his best buddy to arrive and watch the show with us. We timed it perfectly, settling into our seats minutes before the show started.

The Jungle Book is another of Northwest Children’s Theater’s collaborations with the Anita Menon of the Anjali School of Dance. They work together to retell classic stories through dance, music, and theater.

The Jungle Book is a familiar story to many, and this collaboration provides some fun new twists. Mowgli and Bagheera are both played by females. Each animal group has its own distinctive style of dance and costuming, and the snake Kaa performs some pretty incredible aerial stunts. Shere Khan is portrayed by Andres Alcala, one of our absolute favorite NWCTS actors, and he was definitely the star of this show. And as an added treat, mango lassis and samosas are sold during intermission. Yum!

As we have always seen with these collaborative productions, the music, dancing, and costumes are above and beyond. The boys (Chicken was off with the Girl Scouts) excitedly whispered and giggled throughout the show, intrigued by the dances and finding humor in Shere Khan. The production is very dance heavy, and while it is beautiful, there were times that the time between action or dialogue seemed to lose some of the younger audience members.

After the show, we took some time to meet the cast, get pictures, and have our programs signed. The cast always makes this such a fun experience. I saw cast members taking the time to show dance moves to young audience members, ask questions, and take time to chat with each child. This is always a highlight of our NWCTS experience.

The Jungle Book:

What it’s not: a fast moving pace throughout the whole show, as funny as some of the shows we have seen there

What it is: colorful, full of amazing music and dance, a unique blend of theater and traditional Indian dance, a manageable length for most school aged children

Do we recommend it? Yes! While it was not our favorite show we have seen at NWCTS, it is a fun and unique show that is worth seeing.

The run time for this show is about 2 hours, with an intermission half way through. Try some of the special snacks! They were delicious!

The show runs through March 7th and tickets can be purchased here:

The Jungle Book

Cultural Activities, Theater

What My Kids Get Out of Going to Live Theatre

We recently went to a production that wasn’t a huge hit will all three of us (Nugget like it more than Chicken and I did). It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t one that all of us loved. It was a very busy weekend and theatre tickets aren’t the cheapest, and I momentarily questioned why we had bothered.

I was specifically able to answer that question with these experiences from a show we didn’t even love.

1) Nugget got to spend an hour giggling and dancing with his best friend while they shared this imaginary world brought to life

2) During the backstage tour that we did, Chicken got to have a discussion about the importance of details in an imaginary world and what can be beneficial about doing something good/creative even if others don’t notice

3) An adult male that Nugget admires complimented his choice of nail polish color (shimmery purple). FYI- that’s not always the response he gets

4) When asked by an actor about his favorite part of the show, Nugget said that it was hearing Spanish on stage. Not only did it make my heart happy and bring a smile to the actor’s face, he got to have a conversation with that actor in Spanish that seemed to please them both.

All of a sudden I felt better about attending the show and appreciated the experience more. Then I broadened my thought process. We go to A LOT of theatre. That’s a lot of time and money that we could spend on other things. Why do we keep doing it? My list of reasons grew even longer.

1) It has helped them learn to sit and pay attention, a skill that serves those early school years well

2) It has fostered discussions related to diversity, racism, gender equality, history, and many other topics that I don’t know we would have talked about otherwise

3) It has helped them think critically and form opinions about all kinds of things. They ask good questions about what they have heard and seen, and incorporate that into their own thoughts and beliefs

4) Talking with actors and getting their programs signed at the local children’s theaters has given them practice sharing their thoughts with others and giving honest and specific compliments to others

5) It has fostered their own creativity outside of the shows. Whether it be recreating their own version of the show, drawing posters for the shows and taping them to our walls, making/wearing costumes related to the show, choosing to read books about a topic introduced to them through a show, rearranging our furniture to mimic a set they have seen, or spending their time singing and dancing to their new favorite tune, it has engaged them in creative activities

6) It has expanded their vocabulary. Sure, I had to explain the term polygamy to my five year old, but we’ve also gotten to talk about lots of other words and idioms

7) They learn and apply knowledge to new situations. When a peer asked Chicken when you become and adult, she responded “18. Because in 21 Chump Street it says that since Justin was over 18, he was charged as an adult.” Perhaps not the best or most age appropriate example, but she was able to immediately retrieve that information because she had context for it. Nugget often bursts into specific song lyrics related to a topic he or others are talking about. He could also probably win the Jeopardy category “Early America Presidents” at this point thanks to Hamilton and all the additional reading we have done related to the figures in the show

8) It has taught them to pay attention to detail. They notice costume elements that I don’t catch. They think about why a specific prop was used or why a certain staging choice was made. They talk about lighting and the impact it made. Is it nerdy? Yes. Is noticing detail and thinking about what it means a skill that will serve them well? Yes.

9) It has broadened their horizons outside of theatre. Chicken decided to audition for a play herself, and being on stage brought her confidence and connection with others that made me so happy for her. Nugget has finally gotten to live his dream of doing backstage and technical work with a local community theater, and it has been fantastic to seem him take his job so seriously and take pride in the work he is doing. They have both found topics to explore further through books, songs, and lessons.

10). It’s fun. It provides a way for us to spend an afternoon together sharing a fun experience and sharing our thoughts and opinions with each other.

Is going to theater a privilege I am lucky enough to share with my kids because of our life circumstances? Absolutely. Would everyone find it as enjoyable and impactful? Probably not. But it has given a lot to our family and I see the benefits playing out in my children. And that means we will keep going.

Cultural Activities, Spring and Summer Activities

Summer Reading Programs 2019

Summer is almost here!  Yay!  Many of us are looking for ways to keep the kiddo’s reading skills fresh and stay in that reading routine over the summer.  Luckily, local libraries and bookstores are here to help us out.

Our favorite summer reading program is at Powell’s Books.  Kids fill out a bookmark listing the books they have read, and once they fill it up they can return it to either Powell’s location.  They get a small certificate of completion and a $5 gift certificate to use on anything in the store!  You also get to keep the bookmark.  If you fill out the bottom portion with basic contact info, you are also entered into a grand prize drawing- usually a larger gift certificate to the store.  The really cool part is that you can do this as many times as you want over the course of the summer.  Chicken stocked up on books last summer, and Nugget bought many a container of slime. As of May 26th, Powell’s staff said they did not know the exact start date, but said that it should start in mid-June.  Just in time for school getting out!

Barnes and Noble also does a summer reading program- and it has already started!.  You can pick up their reading log in store or download it off of their website.  Kids document the books the read and write a sentence or two about their favorite part.  Beginning August 1, you can turn in your reading log and select a free book from a given selection based on the child’s age.  There are a good variety of books and Chicken has always found ones of interest.  Nugget will finally be old enough to participate this year!

Click to access 123233A-01-bn-teacher-letter-cropped-edit.PDF

Sign-ups for the Washington County Library system start today! (June 1st)  Kids track their reading and can earn prizes.  When registering, you get a packet of passes and discounted tickets for activities such as free Benihana kids meals, discounted Oaks Park tickets, discounted State Fair entry, free ice cream, etc.  At the end of the summer you get to pick a free book if you have done all of your reading!

https://www.wccls.org/srp/kids2019

Multnomah County Library does a similar program.  Sign-ups start June 14th and is very similar to the Washington County program.  Their discounted passes include the symphony and Oregon Children’s Theatre!

https://multcolib.org/summer-reading

Regardless of where you live in the Portland area, there is a summer reading program that can get your kids to keep reading over the summer!

Adventure Box, Cultural Activities, Holiday, Winter Activities

Chinese New Year in Portland

Chicken and Nugget are part Vietnamese, and one of their favorite things about being Vietnamese, apart from the food, is celebrating Chinese New Year.  It means a feast and games with family, parades, lion dances, and dragon dances.  Nugget in particular is all in when it comes to the celebration.  He even has his own kid sized lion dance costume, which I must say he looks adorable in.

Portland actually has a variety of Chinese New Year celebrations if you know where to look.  So far this year we participated in two events.  Chinese New Year is technically over, but we have one more thing to do this weekend!  Maybe these activities will prompt you to seek out some celebratory adventures next year.

This year I took Nugget downtown for the Chinese New Year opening parade.  We got there really early- like first-ones-there early.  This was good because we got to spend time picking out the prime location.  Nugget changed his mind about where this might be about eight times, but we really did wind up in the perfect spot!

The celebration starts in front of the Siren theater, off 3rd and Davis.  People used bamboo fishing poles to lower down fire crackers that were set off in metal baskets.  Then came the dragon, lion dancers, and what Nugget refers to as the “fat baby” accompanied by a live drummer.  After the initial performance is over, you are invited to follow the lions as the visit local Asian merchants to wish them a prosperous new year.  Nugget was thrilled to be up close and personal with the lion and giggled as the “lions” were fed lettuce that they “accidentally” tossed into the audience.  The whole thing ends in off Burnside near the Chinese Garden.  You have the option of entering the Chinese Garden (paid admission) for even more activities.

I believe this was the 4th year that this parade has taken place, and hopefully it will happen for many years to come.  It is a fun, family friendly parade that provides a glimpse into some of the fun traditions associated with Chinese New Year.  It is important to note that the firecrackers and drumming are quite loud, which may be disconcerting to some littles who are not used to the sound.  Even Nugget, now 6, a child who has seen these things many, many, times, proudly stated “I didn’t even cover my ears or cry this time!”  And he LOVES it.

Nugget then accompanied his dad to the Chinese Lantern Lighting at Lan Su Chinese Garden as one of his “tickets” from the adventure box the kiddos got for Christmas.  This is a closing celebration that takes place over a few days at the Chinese Garden.  The garden is lit up with beautiful traditional lanterns and the pond his home to a glowing 20 foot dragon.  There are more lion dances, music, dance performances, and activities.  Nugget came home as happy as a little clam.  He thought the lion dances were fantastic, and he was very proud of the paper lantern he made as well as the paper he brought home that had Chinese calligraphy on it.

Tickets to this event, which can be purchased on Lan Su’s website, did sell out for all dates a couple of weeks before the event, so don’t procrastinate!  Adults were $45 and children were $15.  Hot cider was provided, and additional food and beverages were available for purchase.  It is an outdoor event on a February evening, so make sure and dress warm!