When you were a child, which of your stuffed animals was “real”?
I remember my special relationship with “Dancing Bunny,” who was named that because it was printed across his chest until it was loved off. He started out with erect ears, and was rather stout, even though he was a professional dancer. He had open fluff surgery–twice–and was squished into a suitcase for all family adventures. He is now protected in a box in the garage, his sticker eyes halfway peeled off, much thinner, and more grayish and flat-coated than fluffy white. My best childhood companions were animals, and he was just as real to me as any of them.
This memory came to the surface when my family attended a spectacular Childsplay production of “The Velveteen Rabbit” this past weekend. Our family had heard that Childsplay productions were fabulous, but we’d never been, partially due to the fact that my kids went berserk during the last live production we tried to attend, and we had to leave during intermission.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” is a sweet holiday tale based on Margery Williams’ classic children’s book. It is perfect for the holidays because it is all about love and the magic of imagination–the possibility of the impossible. Childsplay is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary of the production that has become a holiday tradition for so many and will, now, for us.
I loved it, as did my husband (shhh, don’t tell), but, more importantly, it captivated my kids, Porter (6) and Campbell (4) as they sat riveted in their theater-provided booster seats. I truly couldn’t believe that they stayed still and engaged throughout the entire performance. There were no ill-timed trips to the restroom or begging for snacks. They simply loved it. I loved watching their smiles just as much as I enjoyed watching the play!
The actors were fabulous. I anticipated that they might be sub-par, seeing as this was a theater company geared toward kids, but they were as professional as I’ve ever seen. Kaleena Newman as the boy and Eric Boudreau as Nana carried the “human” aspect of the show and captivated the audience, young and old alike. Despite playing roles as the opposite genders, they were completely believable–what talents!
The puppeteers and set interacted in a way that made the magic of the story come to life. Our favorite part–SPOILER ALERT–was when the boy and the Velveteen Rabbit were pretending to be pilots. The nursery bed sprouted a propeller, emitted smoke, and even lifted right up off the stage! “Whoa!” said Porter, amazed. Who knew such a quiet, sweet story could be so exciting?
After the actors took their final bows, they talked to the audience about the production and gave the children a chance to answer questions about what they like to pretend to be when they are playing. Porter said “a superhero!” They gave the children the opportunity to ask any question they wanted about the production. Some asked about how the toys moved, and some asked about the story. What a great chance for these new theater-goers to connect with the actors and better understand all that goes into a professional live production. The actors even invited the children to come up to the stage and meet them!
The fun spilled out into the lobby and beyond, and the Tempe Center for the Arts was the perfect venue. The kids had a chance to write to the Nursery Fairy about which toy they would love to have come alive. There was a small gift-shop at which you could purchase books and other Velveteen Rabbit souvenirs. There is an outdoor area overlooking Tempe beach, so the kids could run around and get their wiggles out before and after the show. There is an art gallery to explore, and an outdoor sculpture garden to round out the experience.
If you are looking for a unique holiday event for the whole family, I would highly recommend Childsplay’s production of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which runs on weekends through December 22nd.