My friend Renée, sent this photo of her daughter’s preschool class at The Little School in Weston. With the help of the Weston Playhouse, they are learning about acting, and learning a song from an upcoming play, The Phantom Tollbooth.
Her daughter recently turned five and for her birthday, I bought her a copy of the book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. One of the many pleasures of living in Manchester, VT is being able to shop at the Northshire Bookstore, a wonderful independent bookstore and true asset to this community. My youngest graduates from high school soon, and this is my way of passing along a tradition that my husband and I shared with all three of our children.
I did not grow up attending theater. The closest I came was church specials or school plays. My husband, on the other hand, “spent his child hood” (we never say that he “grew up,” as we are still waiting for that to happen) in Connecticut, one hour from New York City and of course, Broadway. He grew up loving theater, received a master’s in theater arts, and even spent some time as a professional actor.
When I first met my husband, he had a two year old son, and there was no question that “theater” was going to be part of his upbringing. By the time he was 6 years old and we moved to Vermont, he had already been to Broadway twice – to see Penn & Teller and Ain’t Misbehavin’. He had also seen Singing in the Rain at a local dinner theater (the dancing in the rain scene was very cool) and Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in New Haven. That was so long ago that we bought an autographed copy of the video cassette.
Moving from Westport, CT to South Londonderry, VT was a big life style change. Proximity to Broadway was gone, but the Weston Playhouse helped fill the void. We attended 1-2 performances each summer, and when our son was in middle school, he and I became ushers, so we got to see EVERY show. One of the upsides of this, was that our son was now exposed to a wide range of styles, not just the one or two we chose to see each year. When he entered high school, he was drawn to the theater department and performed in all eights shows during his high school career. (I think the fact that the male/female ration was about 1 to 10 might have also been part of the draw.)
Weston Playhouse continued to be part of the tradition as the next two kids came along. Our daughter loved theater. When she was in 2nd grade, my husband took her for a weekend to New York to visit some friends. Among many exciting activities, she saw The Lion King on Broadway. When she got home, exhausted, on Sunday night, I told her she needed to go to bed early since she had school the next day. She informed me that she would no longer be going to school. “What do you plan to do?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Move to New York and go to concerts and Broadway and out to dinner every night.” I said, “That sounds great, BUT, you might want to finish 2nd grade, first, since that’s a pretty expensive lifestyle and you’ll need a good education to get you there.” Like her older brother, she was drawn to theater in high school and participated in some fashion for all 8 productions during her high school career. (Shout out to Jim and Claudia Raposa of the Creative Arts Department at Burr and Burton Academy for teaching her to work her butt off.)
Child #3 is 17 years younger than his brother, two years younger than his sister, and a universe apart in personality from both of them. “Sitting still”, was never easy for him so “theater” was tough. HOWEVER, some of the most memorable family theater experiences are when he did engage because then, it was electric. His first theater experience was going to see A Year with Frog and Toad, at Weston’s newly acquired second stage (the former Rod and Gun Club). He was 4 years old. My husband had taken both of the younger kids to see the dress rehearsal the night before, and I was told that I was in for a “big surprise.” We sat on the edge of the seats, near the wall, and my son sat on the edge of his seat, nervously eyeing the wall. The theater filled with families with young children, most of whom I knew as my kids’ classmates. My son was uncharacteristically attentive. Finally, we came to a part of the story where Frog tells Toad a “scary” story about being lost alone in the woods and meeting the Large and Terrible Frog, who, by the way, “eats little bunnies dipped in dirt and likes frog children for dessert.”
(Suspenseful music playing.)
Toad: What did you do?
Young Frog: What shall I do?
Toad: What did you do?
Young Frog: What shall I do?
Toad: Did you?
Young Frog: Shall I?
My son, terrified, stands up and screams at the top of his lungs: “Kill Him!”
There was a pause, this obviously registered with the actors, who were only about 10 feet away from us. Then the entire audience cracked up laughing. The song finished, the very terrifying cardboard Large and Terrible Frog slides back behind the wall and the show continues. Afterward, I apologized to one of the actors for the disruption and he said, “Are you kidding? He was totally into it! That’s the best kind of audience – engaged!” For the next week, I received a number of emails from other parents with just two words in the subject line – Kill Him!
Child #3, the next engaging play: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, abridged. Subsequent trips to the theater were met with delight by my daughter and mostly dread by our youngest. We became a little more selective about what plays to see with the kids with an “at least one play a season” policy. He’s now about 6 years old. We couldn’t get four seats together so my theater-loving daughter and theater-loving husband sat in one row and the wiggly child and I sat a few rows away. He was totally engrossed: it was funny and fast paced – just his style. Just before intermission, the character Sam, played by Sam Lloyd Jr., runs off the stage and it is announced that the play could not continue until they “Find Sam.” The lights go on. Clever segue to an intermission, I think. My son runs off and is urgently racing thru the theater patrons who are eating cookies or standing in line for the bathroom. When I finally catch up to him, I asked, “WHAT are you doing?” His reply, “I’m trying to ‘Find Sam.’ They said they can’t finish the play without him!” Engaged? – you bet, even though it was Shakespeare and I doubt he understood half of the dialog.
One for the whole family that was NOT for the whole family.
Avenue Q – this looks like fun. (I had never heard of it.) We buy tickets. We arrive with our 11 year old daughter and 9 year old son. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE at the theater says – you do realize this is NOT a children’s performance. Sure. Fine. Whatever. So we are seated, front row center and my kids are enthralled. There are puppets, on stage, with no lower bodies, doing the nasty on stage right in front of them. It was … hilarious! Granted, we had to ramp up our “birds & bees” talk a bit when we got home, but we got thru it and it became one of the family favorites and, just like with Frog and Toad and other shows we had seen, we bought the CD and my kids memorized the words to every song. They had to be reminded that what was OK at home was not necessarily OK to repeat at school. Looking back, maybe they were too young, but hey, they seem mostly unharmed. Just don’t ask them what the internet is for.
Unlike a movie or books, that you are are likely to revisit again and again (and again and again), theater is usually a single event. We always tried to make it memorable by listening to the music and/or reading the book and/or seeing the movie. We even saw A Year with Frog and Toad the very next year at Dorset Theatre, and loved it all over again. Comparing and contrasting each version became then norm. As an ‘event’ we always tried to also do something special (perhaps “bribe” would be the right word), like go out to dinner or grab a Maple creemie from Mildred’s at the Vermont Country Store across the street from Weston Playhouse. Attending the Act IV Cabaret was always a big treat. Yeah, I know it makes for a late night with young kids, but hey, it was summer. I think each of my kids was dragged up on the cabaret stage by David Bonanno, at least once.
Kids are different. We have two theater lovers and one who, in spite of some very positive experiences, falls in the category of “over my dead body.” Because my husband and I both love theater, it will always be part of our lives. We’re thrilled that the Weston Playhouse continues to make professional theater available to the next generation and their families. We’re thrilled, and hopeful that Renée and her family will be able to enjoy theater as much as we did with our own children (or at least, with 66.67 % of them).
The Phantom Tollbooth opens June 13 and runs thru June 30th.
- Tuesday – Sunday Evenings at 4:00 pm
- Friday, June 14; Saturday, June 22; and Sunday, June 23 at 1:00 pm
Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm
705 Main Street, Weston, VT 05161
$20 for adults. $10 for children.
(Does not include sales tax and fees.)
For tickets call the Box Office at 802-824-5288 or order online.
BTW – In case you are wondering how this old mom of three now/finally adult children can remember these dates – I consulted the production history. This same page was what I consulted when I first saw that OKLAHOMA was part of this season’s lineup and I thought, didn’t they JUST do that? (No, that was … 17 years ago, when my kids were still kids.)