As a child, I participated in the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre program “Let’s Make a Play.” One day during a make-believe session, the group was asked how a starfish might move. The 4-year-old me, seemingly already grasping the concept of method, began sucking the floor. It was in that moment that I immortalized myself with the theatre staff for decades to come.
When I was eight, I was “old enough” to participate in my first Hot Dog Suppertime Show. This was a huge milestone for me and I got cast as customer “Meg” in The Elves and the Shoemaker. I remember I had two lines in a single scene and got to wear what I thought was the coolest peasant costume ever. I participated in many of the Hotdog shows from then on, performing in the small outdoor stage of the secret garden in front of scores of families as they chowed down on burgers and slurped apple juice.
Twenty-eight years after that first hotdog show, I got to come back with my 7 and 6-year-old niece and nephew to experience Hansel and Gretel. Now, the small basic stage has been replaced by an amazing Magic Castle, the ticket prices are a bit higher, and you can now get a garden burger if you like, but aside from that, the heart and soul of the experience is the same. No microphones, no special effects, a cast and crew of kids 8-16 and at the core, the craft of good old-fashioned storytelling.
Creative staging, wonderful imaginative costuming, fun modern plot twists on classic tales, and most of all a great balance between training kids in the real art of theatre (diction, projection, commitment, timing) and not sucking the fun out of it. It’s a high standard, but it’s still children’s theatre and I like that there are no standing ovations, no double casts, no mic-packs, and no casting of only the best. The opportunity to act should not be afforded to only those with natural talent at this stage of life I feel and PACT embraces this.
It makes it all the more entertaining to remember how much fun I had up there at eight and to see these kids having that same enjoyable experience now. And, for my niece and nephew, and the parents in the audience, the enjoyment was equally positive and educational. Training kids to be a good audience and to patronize the arts and to spend quality time with family is a dying art in and of itself. It was great to see that some things don’t change, and that the Hot Dog Shows (which sold over 2,700 tickets for this show alone) are still, after all these years, a thriving, essential, beautiful, functional and fun part of the community.
4 1/2 out of 5 jewels in the crown for this experience which combines the true craft of theatre education and wholesome, family entertainment. Catch You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and/or Once Upon a Mattress playing at the Magic Castle through August 13th.