Children make up one of the most open and attentive audience groups. They will happily and willingly suspend disbelief for all kinds of entertainment.
They also become one of the more unforgiving groups if they're not engaged, but that shouldn't be a problem at this month's Children's Theater Festival at Fairytale Town. Some of California's finest children's theater companies will perform stories and plays originating from around the world in a variety of styles over the next three weekends.
Fairytale Town, which opened in 1959 on a 2.5-acre site across from the Sacramento Zoo, has long been one of Sacramento's most consistently popular attractions. Last year it drew nearly 240,000. Not only are there are 25 play sets based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales throughout the park, there is also a variety of animals, many of which can be petted or held.
The festival, said Kathy Fleming, Fairytale Town's executive director, is a natural outgrowth of the venue's mission and Sacramento's theater talent.
"The reason we started it is that Sacramento has a really rich children's theater product," Fleming said. "We really want to introduce kids to the arts as early as possible, so that was the impetus."
On Saturday, B Street Theatre's Fantasy Festival XXVII presents the top five plays selected from its annual playwriting contest for students in third through eighth grades. Later in the month, groups from Davis and Roseville will perform.
The festival is an opportunity for touring groups to reach children who would not otherwise have an opportunity to see the performances.
Such a group, Boxtales Theatre Company of Santa Barbara, is one of Fleming's favorite's.
"They're always a highlight for me because they have such an unusual style, and they bring unusual stories too," Fleming said.
"They have a a very unique theatrical style with movement, masks, and drums, so I look forward to that."
Boxtales will present "Prince Rama and the Monkey King" a classical Indian story about Rama of Ayodhya and his wife, Sita, who is abducted by an evil king. The adaptation is based on "The Ramayana," a folk tale from the classical Sanskrit canon.
Fairytale Town also creates its own theater with its Fairytale Troupers (including actors ages 5 to 18) overseen by John Lee. Lee, known for writing and directing award-winning original productions for child actors, presented "Beauty and the Beat" earlier this month and in June opens "Jack and the Meanstalk." His work combines modern references with well-known classic fairy tales in a breezy, entertaining style.
"I always say this is practical playmaking," Lee said.
"They learn as problems arise in the production, and there are always a lot of teachable moments in rehearsal. I expect the best from them. I think if you give them that trust up front and the expectation that they're going to do a great job, then you can get great results."
CHILDREN'S THEATER FESTIVAL
April 13: "Fantasy Festival XXVII" – The top five plays from B Street Theatre's annual playwriting festival and contest for students in third through eighth grades.
Sutter Children's Center Wellness Festival is the same day. The event, which includes free admission to Fairytale Town, features health screenings, gardening and nutrition workshops, physical games and more. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sutter Children's Center medical personnel will answer questions and provide information on healthy childhood development. More than 20 other local health organizations will also be represented. Adults must be accompanied by children.
April 14: "Ichi the Spider" – Humboldt County-based Shadow Puppet Theatre presents this original production inspired by traditional West African trickster tales.
April 20-21: "Prince Rama and the Monkey King" – Using masks and music, the acclaimed Boxtales Theatre Company from Santa Barbara tells the story of Rama of Ayodhya and his wife, Sita, based on "The Ramayana," from India's classical Sanskrit tradition.
April 27: "How the Jackrabbit Got His Very Long Ears" – The Davis-based educational performance group Voice of the Wood presents an American Indian creation myth from the great Southwest desert.
April 28: "The Princess and the Pea" – The Roseville Theatre Arts Academy presents the classic fairy tale in commedia dell'arte form.
When: 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., weekends in April.
Where: Children's Theater on the grounds of Fairytale Town, 3901 Land Park Drive, Sacramento (across from the Sacramento Zoo)
Cost: $2 for nonmembers in addition to park admission ($5 on weekends for non-members 2 and older), and $1 for members. Tickets can be purchased at the Fairytale Town main gate or at the entrance to the Children's Theater 15 minutes before show time.
Information: www.fairytaletown.org, (916) 808-7462.
Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.