Theater, Things to do during COVID closures

SpongeBob the Musical- Broadway Across America

SpongeBob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode. And if my kids have, it wasn’t at our house. But when Chicken and Nugget learned that the SpongeBob musical would be passing through our state- not our town, our state- they just HAD to go.

And because I am a complete sucker, I bought tickets. Actually, it’s because I’m date challenged. Tickets were going to go in their Easter baskets, only for me to realize after the fact that the show was over a month before Easter. Oops.

When the day a month before Easter rolled around,before we were all asked to remain in our homes and maintain social distancing, we loaded up on coffee (me), hot chocolate (them), and snacks (all of us), and loaded up for the 2 hour drive. Two hours. Each way. But I digress.

Thanks to some serious traffic issues, we arrived with just enough time to check out the lobby, use the restroom, and get in line for the door to open slightly late. Having not been at the particular venue in yeeeeeeears, it was a pleasant surprise when we entered. It was lovely!

The first cool element of the show began as soon as you walked in. Lighting was used to create the impression of rippling water, giving the illusion that you are entering the sea to visit SpongeBob and friends. A couple cast members were already on stage, casually playing ukulele and bongo drums. Other cast members slowly joined in until they had quite the little band going, playing island style music. Ushers were all over the place holding signs tell you not to take pictures or videos, but as the formal announcement was made at the beginning of the show, a pirate came waltzing down the aisles, dragging luggage and holding a sign stating he was president of the SpongeBob fan club. He snapped pictures and walked onto the stage only to be confronted and run off by “security.” He made another appearance at the end of intermission and again at the end of the show. They were some of our favorite moments.

Overall, the show was kind of like being in the middle of a neon rainbow that exploded. It was colorful, over the top, high energy, and pure fun and silliness. My favorite character by far was Sheldon, the resident villain. He was portrayed by a fantastic actor who “accidentally graduated a year early” from college. How does that happen? Chicken loved Squidward and Nugget was a fan of SpongeBob himself. The women portraying Sandy and Pearl were off the charts amazing in their singing abilities. The end of the show was also a lot of fun, with cast members forming another band, streamers shooting into the audience, and beach balls tossed out for the audience to play with.

For me, it was a fun show, but not something I need to see again. For my kids, it has been their daily obsession for almost two months now. They sing the songs all day, want to listen to them in the car, and quote lines from the show at random times. They LOVED it.

For better or worse, you are also able to purchase the show from Amazon for $9.99. Ever the sucker, I did. It was odd watching it back in our current circumstances. The characters are in quarantine, waiting for scientists to save them, living under questionably competent leadership, and fear turns them against those who are not like them. I never thought like my life would be so accurately reflected by the citizens of Bikini Bottom, but here we are.

So…

What it’s not: my favorite show ever, a serious life altering show, scary, inappropriate for kids

What it is: funny, good music, colorful, fast paced, surprisingly relevant to our current situation, kid-friendly

Would we recommend it? My kids totally would. I would recommend it to huge fans of Spongebob, or to a family looking to entertain their kids over themselves. But for $9.99, it’s also a fun way to entertain the kids at home and likely get them singing, dancing, and giggling.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Theater

Dear Evan Hansen- Broadway Across America

Oh my heavens. This is one powerful show. I had my suspicions from what I knew about Dear Evan Hansen may be too mature for my kiddos, so my husband and I left them in the hands of their grandparents and had an evening sans children. And that was the right decision for our family.

Evan Hansen is a high school student struggling with severe anxiety. When a letter he wrote as part of his therapy homework is found in the possession of a peer who committed suicide, a series of events is set into motion.

This show is visually stunning. The set pieces are simple but effective, while lighting and the incorporation of technology is used to perfection. The cast we saw was amazingly talented and each did an exceptional job capturing the essence as well as the subtleties of their characters. They are also, of course, fantastic actors and singers.

There are many moments of humor and levity, which are timed wonderfully to break up the heartbreak that is key to the show. It is a beautiful story that highlights how people are not all good or all bad- we all have moments of both.

As much as I loved this show, I am glad we did not bring the children. There is foul language, although since they go to public school and professional sporting events, I doubt there would be much they hadn’t heard before. The themes are pretty grown up and intense. Mental health, suicide, marital conflict, the pros and cons of social media, and dishonesty all make significant showings. I’m just not sure our Chicken and Nugget would have been old enough to understand all of what was happening and have a context for processing what they saw.

That being said, there is plenty of fodder for communication with older children. Their experiences with social media, how they cope with feelings of distress, their navigation of relationships, concerns they may have for the wellbeing of friends or peers, and just what it means to be a friend. If you are open to the themes and conversations, it is an amazing show to experience.

What it’s not: for young children, light hearted

What it is: incredibly powerful, beautiful, important, timely, potentially triggering for many people, full of mature themes

Do we recommend it? For older children or a date night, yes. It is truly one of the most powerful shows I have seen and it is extremely well done. Maybe just wait until the kids are a bit older to take them.

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.

Theater

Dragons Love Tacos- Oregon Children’s Theatre

If you are like us, the book Dragons Love Tacos has been read many, many times in your household. So we were quite excited to see it come to life on Oregon Children’s Theatre’s stage this past weekend!

For those not familiar with the story, a boy is home alone while his mother steps out for a moment and dragons arrive and set forth with planning a taco party- because dragons love tacos! It is critically important to make sure all toppings are mild as spicy foods lead to unfortunate tummy symptoms in dragons. When they fail to read the fine print on the jar of mild salsa which states that it now contains spicy jalapenos, chaos and destruction ensue. Luckily, they all work together to put everything back together before mom gets home. Phew!

We were lucky to be able to participate in a back stage tour before the show started. Chicken and Nugget have done this before and love it, while it was a new experience for Nugget’s friend that we brought along with us. All three of them asked questions and had fun seeing the costumes and set up close.

As we settled in to get ready for the show to start, you could hear the excitement in the audience. This is a story many kids are familiar with, especially the pre-school and kindergarten crowd, and children in this age range filled the auditorium.

The story is facilitated by a VERY energetic narrator, who arrives through the family’s television as part of a 24 part documentary about dragons. The book does not include character dialog, and the play is consistent with this. While the boy in the story has a couple of lines at the very end, the narrator otherwise provides the only talking during the show.

The costumes were really the star of this production. They are colorful, oversized structures that cover the full body of the actors while still allowing the actors to move freely. The red and yellow dragons in particular got pleased gasps from the audience as they were introduced on stage. The fire caused by the dragon’s tummy trouble was also a cool moment technically on stage.

As is typical of shows targeted toward the youngest theatre goers, the audience remained rather noisy throughout the show. While the production attempted to embrace this by creating moments for audience participation by encouraging the shouting out of answers to questions, I always have to remind myself to be understanding of the lack of typical theater behavior. Take a chill pill, mom.

There is some fun music in the show, and Nugget and his friend were dancing in their seats on more than one occasion. I caught each of them smiling and giggling at various points in the show. There is some Spanish used at the beginning of the show, and as all three kiddos go to a Spanish immersion school, they were all excited to hear this.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, although not necessarily my favorite. Chicken summed it up perfectly by saying “I’m glad we went but I don’t need to see it again,” To which Nugget promptly replied “What are you talking about? I would go again. Mom, can we go again?”

So…..

What it’s not: a favorite of mine or Chicken’s, a quiet audience experience, a typical play in terms of division of dialogue

What it is: enjoyable, familiar and exciting to young audiences, fantastic costumes, fun to see a family favorite brought to life

Would we recommend it? I wouldn’t NOT recommend it. While it wasn’t a favorite, it’s well done and the littles around us seemed to get a kick out of it.

Theater

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- the stage production

Harry Potter fans rejoice! Our favorite characters have made it to the stage! In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a continuation of the Harry Potter world can now be seen in select cities around the world. Over winter break, we had the incredible opportunity to travel to San Francisco to not only enjoy the city, but to take in the Cursed Child show.

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The story takes place several years after the book series ends. Harry and Hermione now work for the Ministry of Magic, Ron owns a joke shop, and they are all adults trying to balance work and family responsibilities. Harry and Ginny now have kids, as do Ron and Hermione, and they are headed for Hogwarts!

When Harry’s son, Albus, is not only sorted into Slytherin but also becomes best friends with Scorpius (Draco Malfoy’s son), their already difficult relationship becomes even more strained. And Albus’ repeated attempts to solve one problem while creating bigger ones don’t help things between them either.

I will say that the story does not hold up to previous Harry Potter stories. It is difficult to portray the richness of language and imagery found in the books in the form of a script. But seeing the magic of the wizarding world along with the characters we have all loved for years up close and in person more than makes up for it. And it starts the moment you walk in the theater.

The Curran Theatre went all in getting ready for the show. Hogwarts crests can be found in the carpeting and wallpaper from the lobby to the bathrooms. Theatre staff and ushers are dressed in wizarding robes and have house related details- Gryffindor pin here, a Hufflepuff tie there. They use Harry Potter lingo and bring the show experience to audience members. As a bit of a spoiler, some of Albus’ choices significantly alter history, and a certain villain resumes prominence- albeit temporarily. When we returned to the theatre for part two, an usher greeted us with “Happy Voldemort Day.” Nugget, of course, firmly said “no.” The usher glowered at him and said “I will be speaking to Professor Umbridge about you, young wizard.” Nugget’s eyes got huge and he quickly scurried off as the usher winked at me and I tried to cover my laughter.

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The special effects in this show are incredible and unlike anything we had seen before. Without giving too much detail and spoiling it for you, actors disappear through impossibly small spaces, cast members fly over the audience at impressive heights, set movements are choreographed in ways that make inanimate objects dance, impressive lighting makes the impossible possible, and water is used in a very fun way. Spells make magic happen, sparks shoot from wands, and capes and costumes add not only provide cover to allow the magic to occur, but add a beautiful visual elegance. Certain effects and moments in the show had audience members literally on the edge of their seats and craning their necks and bodies to get closer in ways I haven’t witnessed at other shows. When a particular villain made an appearance and walked into the audience, I may or may not have grabbed Nugget and placed him on my lap, squeezing him tight. Sorry, Chicken. I guess you’re fending for yourself.

While Harry and Hermione weren’t portrayed the way they are in my imagination, Ron remained his goofy self. Scorpius was delightful, and Moaning Myrtle was a complete scene stealer. The actress playing Delphi, a newly introduced character critical to the plot, was captivating. A couple parts in the story drag a bit, and I could see how some people who aren’t dedicated Harry Potter fans could lose interest. Similarly, it definitely helps to know the Harry Potter books quite well to appreciate some of the references and back story. I would not recommend this show if you aren’t familiar with the books as it would not be nearly as enjoyable.

This show is two parts. Don’t mistake that for one show with an intermission. It is two full length plays that you can see on one day or two separate days. Separate tickets must be purchased for each part. We chose to do it all in one day, with the first part at 1:00 and the second part at 6:30. Depending on the age of your children, this may or may not be advisable. My kids have been going to plays since they were about 3 years old. We have done hour long shows meant for kids, and three hour shows where we got many skeptical looks from adults worried we were about to destroy their evening. We have done two plays in one day. Because they are both complete Harry Potter nerds, I was relatively confident (or overly optimistic) they could do it. It was like our Mount Everest of theater. And they did it. They were 100% engrossed in the show the entire time. You do get a break that is long enough for a walk and meal, which was helpful. But not all kids are going to be able to handle nearly 6 hours of theater that requires being still and quiet. And if you are going to commit to the financial investment for your family to see the show, you want to make sure you are setting everyone up for success.

What it’s not: appropriate for most small children due to the length (a total of almost 6 hours) and some scary parts, as well written as the original Harry Potter books, targeted to people who aren’t familiar with the Harry Potter world

What it is: visually stunning, nostalgic, well acted, incredibly staged, innovative, moving, a hit with dedicated fans of the series.

Would we recommend it? For fans of the series and kids old enough to sit through a show of this length, absolutely yes! It is possible that I am planning a kid-free trip with friends to see it again. Chicken said this is her favorite show that she has seen, and Nugget said it is tied with Hamilton- which is saying something.

Tickets are sold in blocks, and new dates will periodically be added as the show run extends. San Francisco tickets can be purchased here: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/san-francisco/

There are links on this page to the other cities as well. Don’t forget that you need to purchase a ticket to each part!

Theater

Clue the Musical- Beaverton Civic Theatre

Clue. The classic whodunnit game that has been played and loved by many. Who did it? Where? And with what?

Beaverton Civic Theatre brought this game to life in their recent musical version of Clue. Just Chicken and I went to this one as Nugget had another fun activity on his schedule for the day. And we both agree he totally missed out.

The interactive nature of this play truly set it apart. At the beginning of the play, three audience members were invited on stage. One drew a “who” card, one drew the “where” card, and another drew the “how” card. The cards were then placed into an envelope and taped to the wall of the set (which was a life sized version of the game board). Because a unique combination of cards is drawn at each show, there are 216 different endings to the show.

The plays narrator, Mr. Boddy (who was fantastic and had a great stage presence), periodically gave clues based on the cards. He had seen them, but the audience and actors were in the dark. There was space in the program to track the clues so audience members could attempt to solve the mystery themselves.

This show was one of our favorites we have seen at Beaverton Civic Theatre. It was funny, engaging, and well done. The songs were catchy and Chicken is still wandering around the house singing about how “life is a bowl of cherries.” Some of Mr. Boddys narration is a little fast and may be hard for some younger children to follow, but they will likely get the general idea. There is also some subtle adult humor, but again, it is likely to go over the heads of kids not old enough for it. Chicken was very excited when she correctly solved the mystery and had fun sharing how she came to the correct conclusion.

While this is a murder mystery show, it’s not scary. The concept may be generally frightening to very young or sensitive children, but there aren’t any scenes that are truly fear inducing. Beaverton Civic Theater had hosted a related Girl Scouts workshop aimed at 2nd through 5th graders prior to the show, so the audience was full of Girl Scouts and their leaders. All of the kids were having fun and none seemed afraid.

What it is: a fun, family friendly musical based on the classic game, interactive, colorful, creative

What it’s not: scary, large stage with elaborate sets or staging

Do we recommend it? Yes! It was a lot of fun and is a reasonably priced way to spend an afternoon or evening together

Tickets are $15 dollars for adults and only $5 for kids. Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.beavertoncivictheatre.org/tickets.html

Theater, Volunteering

Volunteering at Northwest Children’s Theater

If you follow this blog at all, you know that we tend to go to a lot of theater.  One of the really cool things about Northwest Children’s Theater in particular is the multiple ways children can get involved with the theater experience- from attending plays, taking classes, Girl Scout workshops, going to theater camp, or even volunteering. We have taken advantage of most of those opportunities, but we recently gave volunteering a shot for the very first time!

Children as young as 4 are allowed to be assistant ushers or program passers (as long as an adult is with them).  Nugget has been itching to do this for a while.  There have been times we have arrived early and he has asked for jobs to do.  The staff there is so amazing, and they have given him extremely important responsibilities like making sure the bathroom lights are on and that there is toilet paper in the boys bathroom.  He took these tasks quite seriously.

This fall, we decided to do it the real way.  I signed the three of us up to be usher’s for the season opener play, How I Became a Pirate. We were told to arrive an hour prior to show time. After your first time, you are asked to arrived 40 minutes prior to the start. After some quick paperwork for the grown-ups, we were assigned our duties.

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Nugget and I were designated as program passers. Nugget’s face about broke from his excited smile. He grabbed some familiar faces (like I said, we go there a lot), to role play his job and took it all very seriously. He was a fantastic program passer.

Chicken got to be a stage guard, which meant she sat on the steps leading up onto the stage to keep curious kiddos off the stage. She was very excited. I was busy with Nugget, but apparently she tracked down the mom of a kiddo who was adamant about getting on stage. Don’t mess with my kid!

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As we waited for patrons to arrive, we were asked to help fill in missing numbers that they tape to the back of seats to make them easier to find. As this involved the use of a packaging tape dispenser, both kiddos were totally on board.

We were told that once our duties were done, we could sit anywhere there were open seats. As the show we were at didn’t happen to be overly crowded, we would up with a pretty good view! It did take us a moment to get into audience mode after coming straight from our ‘job,’ but we settled in quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the show!

Apart from the benefit of being allowed to see the show without purchasing a ticket, we were also heach given a token for a free concession to use at the next show we come to.

Northwest Children’s Theater also started a passport program this season. You earn stamps in your passport for doing different things related to attending the theater, and volunteering is one of them. There are prizes as you acquire stamps. First stamp- check! In order to acquire additional stamps, you can do things like take public transportation to a show, dress up for a show, take a class, etc. Next time you are there, take a minute to check it out!
 

What it is: fun, developmentally appropriate assigned jobs, a way to ease the financial burden of going to shows, a way for kids to feel involved and helpful

What it’s not: for kids who are painfully shy

You can sign up to volunteer here:  https://nwcts.org/usher-a-show/

You can buy tickets here:  https://nwcts.secure.force.com/ticket

Theater

In the Heights- Portland Center Stage

Oh, Lin Manuel Miranda- how we love thee! As soon as I saw this production would be happening in Portland, I began anxiously awaiting day tickets would go on sale. The day finally came, and I snatched up tickets for myself, the kids, and the husband.

If you are not familiar, Lin Manuel Miranda started writing this musical while still in college. It eventually found its way to Broadway, winning several Tonys and changing the face of Broadway.

The story takes place in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City. It is set over 4th of July weekend. It is full of salsa and hip hop music, humor, dance, and fun. Both Chicken and Nugget really enjoyed visually exploring the realistic set of this particular production. A working crosswalk sign is prominent, which they found fascinating. How did they get it on stage? Where was it plugged in? Would the cast have to wait for the walking signal before they could cross the stage? These questions and more kept them quite busy before the show started. The store fronts are very realistic and it really looks like a neighborhood corner. The costumes were spot on for the time period and region, and the shoes seriously deserved their own mention in the cast list.

But the show also highlights important social issues related to the formation of community and family, financial strain, diversity, ambition, the hopes of immigrant parents for their children, the path for children of immigrants to live up to their parent’s dreams, and what exactly “home” means. Lines such as “why learn the language if they still won’t hear you?” among others solidly hit home in more poignant moments. This show is so timely and it was wonderful to see immigrants represented in such a positive and respectful light. The show and cast masterfully build and release emotion and tension. They truly take you on a journey right along with them.

The show doesn’t shy away from the incorporation of Spanish in the music lyrics or dialog. Being bilingual myself and with Chicken and Nugget in a Spanish immersion school, we loved seeing the representation of people, culture, language, and even flags on stage. After the show was over, Nugget commented “it was like seeing maestra on stage!”

While Nugget went and thoroughly loved it, this is not a play geared for young children and I would not recommend it for a young child’s first exposure to theater. There is quite a bit of swearing (Nugget said it should be renamed “The Play with Lots of Swears”), a fight at a nightclub, sexual innuendo (that went completely over the heads of both the kiddos). That being said, though, Nugget was trying to process what was happening. He asked lots of good questions during and after the show in his efforts to put it all together.

Chicken, age 9, came closer to appreciating the themes of the show, but still missed some of the intricacies and just doesn’t have enough life experience to understand all of the references to broader social issues.

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However, this show could be a great conversation started with older children. Themes are brought up in a thoughtful and impactful way that music somehow makes more accessible.

And if you want a night out without the kiddos, this is the perfect show. It was amazing and is definitely in my top 5! I highly recommend it for the grown-up contingent amongst us.

And heads up- a movie version of this production will be released on June 26, 2020. Guess where we will be that day!

So….

What it’s not… recommended for young children, in a venue friendly to young kids (Nugget is over the required age but we were stopped MULTIPLE times and asked how old he was and were actively discouraged from taking him in. I did not cave and have no regrets. I seriously feel better about him having seen this show than Star Wars. Or Captain Marvel. Or SpiderMan. You get the point).

What it is… beautiful, powerful, fun, funny, thought provoking, telling the story of communities not often seen on stage, bilingual, extremely talented cast, moving, amazing music, timely

Do we recommend it? For older children or a date night out- yes, yes yes! The dialog moves quickly and it may be worth a listen of the soundtrack before your visit

Tickets can be found here: https://www.pcs.org