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The Play’s the Thing: Summer Theatre for Families

When my daughter was three, we booked tickets to Peter Pan at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our plan was to drive down during the day, have the lady at the bed and breakfast watch over our youngest and take our two older boys for an exciting night of pirates, flying children and a ticking crocodile.

Well, as so often happens when you are traveling with kids, the “plan” didn’t work. Despite constant nudging and prodding, Natalie slept soundly all afternoon. She woke up around suppertime and just as people were starting to filter into the theatre for the performance, she became positively bouncy. Should we take her along? We knew she was not ready for bed and yes, there were tickets. The only glitch was the potentially scary Captain Hook. But our daughter seemed just as alarmed by the strange and friendly bed and breakfast lady.

Again, another surprise. She absolutely loved Captain Hook, giggling when he uttered dire threats and agog with the crocodile. But our littlest was absolutely terrified of Peter Pan! For months afterward, I had to hang black curtains at her window so that Peter wouldn’t take her away in the night. “I don’t want to go to Neverland,” she would tearfully explain.

Nevertheless, despite her angst about flying out over the rooftop, I don’t regret taking her to the play. Kids who attend live theatre at an early age often have a whole other theatrical language than what’s on TV. It teaches them that it’s O.K. to show emotion. And it stays with them. Our teenage daughter is still keen on accompanying us to the theatre—to laugh or cry or be afraid along with the characters acting out their stories on the stage.

Now, there’s no better time to introduce kids to plays and players. Thanks to the popularity of Shakespeare in Love, the funky versions of Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You) and the soon-to-be-released Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare is hot. As for the younger kids, organizations are wooing families with special discounts, free booster seats, picnic lunches and backstage tours. Today, there are excellent children’s theatre festivals across the country. But how about taking the young actors (and we all know situations where kids become very good actors) to a play written for adults too? Here are a few possibilities:

STRATFORD FESTIVAL: Actors have been spouting Shakespeare in this small town about an hour and a half’s drive from Toronto since 1953 (when the actors performed in the second-largest circus tent in North America). But this year, they are also performing Dracula, Jane Austen and teenage warfare. Kids might also like Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Family Experience tickets allow each adult to take up to two kids 18 and under for $25 (proof of age required); Table Talk for Families offers a Victorian tea before Pride and Prejudice, story-telling before The Tempest or Hallowe’en dress-up before the scary Dracula. Book ahead for the backstage guided tours held Sunday mornings June to November and on Mondays starting August 16, adults $5, kids $3; costume warehouse tours are held Wednesday and Saturday mornings June through November, $4. Call 1-800-567-1600.

SHAW FESTIVAL: The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake has always produced fantastic plays. This season, the famous comedy, You Can’t Take It With You, and Arthur Miller’s post Second World War drama All My Sons offer half-price family tickets for kids 18 and under. For other possible kid-pleasing productions such as Gershwin’s fast-paced A Foggy Day with lots of dancing or the thriller Rebecca, the best bet is a special matinee at $20 or a Sunday night performance at $30. New this year are the 30-minute backstage tours on Saturday mornings June 12 to Oct. 9, $3 per person when kids can visit the wig department or see the snake aquarium from You Can’t Take It With You. Call 1-800-511-SHAW. Because the town is always packed with tourists, seek accommodation when you book tickets. Good choices are the P-Shaw package for families at the Comfort Inn in St. Catherines which includes tickets and breakfast at the Golden Griddle (1-800-228-5150) or the Shalamar Lake Trailer and Family Park with its one-acre pool and games room (905-262-4895).

SHAKESPEARE ON THE SASKATCHEWAN: This festival’s logo says it all—Shakespeare wearing sunglasses. Each spring, a snow-dump on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon is transformed into a colorful theatre space with striped tents, concession stands, an army of performers and actors. So popular is this casual and festive event that locals and tourists flock. And the international press have started to take note. This year’s selections are aimed at a youthful audience. Romeo and Juliet, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and a romping musical revue take place on alternative nights from July 7 to August 22. Ticket prices range from free matinées for 12 and under to $19.75 for adults. If your offspring are already nuts for the theatre, they can attend stimulating week-long workshop with the actors. This unique Canadian Pacific Youth Access Program attracts kids from throughout North America and runs July 19 to 24 and July 26 to 31. Call 306-652-2300 or visit http//www.zu.com/shakespeare





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