South Florida Parenting list best theaters for kids

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As the 2002-2003 theater season begins, here is a highlight of some of the major children's theaters and series that you can take advantage of in South Florida.

While many of the theaters work closely with the school systems in their counties and bring theater to thousands of students through field trips or outside tours, this list is for you, the parent, focusing on shows that are open to the public. It is by no means a complete list, however, since there are numerous community centers and high schools that also put on quality plays and shows throughout the year.

Story Theatre
(Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties)

Story Theatre operates from its original home at the Parker Playhouse. "We've been around long enough that some of our original patrons are coming back and bringing in their own kids," says Julia Valent, executive director of Story Theatre, a not-for-profit organization that presents professional touring children's shows at venues throughout South Florida.

You'll find Story Theatre productions at the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts in Miami Beach, Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, the Jim Davidson Performing Arts Center at Walter C. Young Resource Center in Pembroke Pines and the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach.

This year's Story Theatre lineup includes Mother Goose -- A Pocket Full of Rhymes, (a review of Mother Goose rhymes presented in a multicultural fashion), Charlotte's Web, Pinocchio and The Mystery of King Tut (a play that ties in with the "Egyptology" component required for some public school students this year).

As with a Broadway series, families can choose to purchase tickets by the show or by the series. Tickets are $9 per person for individual shows, $32 for the series at the Gleason Theater, Parker Playhouse, or Royal Poinciana Playhouse (includes four shows); and $24 for the series at the Jim Davidson Performing Arts Center (includes three shows). Children age 2 and under are free if they sit on an adult's lap. But live theater isn't recommended for children that young.

Actors' Playhouse Musical Theatre for Young Audiences
(Miami-Dade County)

Set in the historic Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, Actors' Playhouse Musical Theatre for Young Audiences offers five professional, live-theater productions for children each year. The shows are ideal for children between the ages of 3 and 12 and are often based on children's books and stories.

Earl Maulding, director of the Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, says the goal of the children's series is to educate and entertain. Children not only learn through theater at the Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, but also about theater.

Before each performance, Maulding addresses the audience and gives them a mini-etiquette class, letting them know it's OK to laugh when something is funny and that they should show their appreciation for the actors by applauding at the end of the performance. Following the play, families can also stay for a question-and-answer session and a chance to meet the cast members.

The theater also encourages parents to discuss the issues that come up in its plays. Each show (including this year's main stage production of Sound of Music) has an accompanying "Student Enrichment Guide" that can be found on the Actors' Playhouse web site (www.actorsplayhouse.org) with ideas, games and exercises that parents and teachers can use to help children learn more about the play and its messages.

One of the annual highlights of the Musical Theatre for Young Audiences' season is the National Children's Theatre Festival, which showcases the winning musical chosen from the National Call to Competition for new youth-oriented musical works. Maulding created the competition eight years ago in an effort to find and produce more quality original productions for children. The festival kicks off with the Festival Family Fun Day on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2003, at the Miracle Theatre, which includes a performance of the show, performances by other cultural groups, hands-on activities, and workshops for children.

Admission to most performances throughout the season is $9 per ticket. The theater also offers "Flexible/Anytime" season subscriptions for $45 for all five shows. For main stage shows, such as the Sound of Music, ask the box office about special family discounts. In addition, you can plan your child's birthday party at the theater, including the show, pizza and birthday cake.

Broward Center for the Performing Arts
(Broward County)

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts caters each season to children and families with its Family Fun Series, a series of children's plays that takes place in the intimate, 580-seat Amaturo Theater, and two "Family Specials," large-scale, Broadway-style productions such as Sesame Street Live that are held in the main 2,700-seat Au-Rene Theater.

This year's remaining Family Special is Sesame Street Live: Everyone Makes Music, which will run from Sept. 19 to Sept. 22. Ticket prices range from $6 to $21. This year's Family Fun Series, themed "Once Upon a Time," features six shows-performed by different companies, mostly professional-based on children's literature. The series includes plays such as Ferdinand the Bull, A Christmas Carol and The Little Engine That Could.

"It's a great way to get children excited about literature," says Teri Gorman, director of community affairs at the Broward Center. "You can read the book to your children beforehand and when you go to performance, you can compare and contrast how the play was the same or different than the book."

The Family Fun Series shows are specially designed to meet the needs of young theatergoers and their families, Gorman says. The performances are held on weekends and usually last about one hour. Activities and snacks are offered before and after each show in the theater courtyard. The Family Fun Series costs $11 for single tickets, $9 per ticket if you purchase four shows, and $8 per ticket if you purchase all six shows. Lap tickets for infants 12 months and under are $3.

Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre
(Broward County)

The big difference here is that the kids run the shows. They are the actors, the technicians, the makeup artists, the lighting crew -- they do it all. The only adults who get involved are the director and the set designers. But don't expect anything less than a professional production just because it's performed by children.

This year, the Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre, a nonprofit organization, has been marking its 50th anniversary by bringing back plays the theater has performed throughout its history. The upcoming 2002-2003 season includes a mix of old and new, with shows such as A Christmas Carol (which the children's theater will perform at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in partnership with the Family Fun Series), Tom Sawyer, I Never Saw Another Butterfly (a play about a young Holocaust survivor) and Honk! The Musical, which tells the story of the Ugly Duckling.

The Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre performs shows in its own studio theater, the Broward County Main Library Theater and other community and cultural centers. Tickets are typically $10, but range in price, depending on the show and the venue. At the Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre children gain a love for theater on both sides of the stage.

"By exposing children to the theater, whether they are in the play or in the audience, we are making an investment in the future of this art form," Erlick says.

Hollywood Playhouse
(Broward County)

There's not a bad seat in the house in this intimate playhouse theater, says executive artistic director Andy Rogow, making it ideal for young audiences who want to be close to the action.

The Hollywood Playhouse, which got its start as a volunteer-run community theater more than 50 years ago, has been experiencing a revival since it changed directions and became a fully professional theater in 1998. The theater's children's program has been growing steadily as well, now putting on four shows performed and produced by local professionals each season.

While the children's shows are mainly based on classic stories and fairy tales (such as this season's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Scrooge), the Hollywood Playhouse often adapts the scripts to create its own original productions. Most performances, even those for school groups, take place at the playhouse.

Children's shows for the public are on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. Following each weekend performance, the actors greet the audience. Tickets are $5 for group sales and $7 per ticket for individuals.

Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
(Palm Beach County)

The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts hosts more than 900 events every year. Among them are the center's Family Fare shows, family-friendly plays and musicals.

This year's Family Fare lineup features kids' favorite big productions, such as Sesame Street Live: Everyone Makes Music, and Franklin's Class Concert, starring Franklin the Turtle. Other family performances include Ball in the House, a six-member a cappella ensemble that simulates the sounds of instruments using only their voices, and Cirkus Inferno, a troupe of clown performers that uses sound effects, music, pyrotechnics, and outrageous props to create a live-action cartoon. The tickets for Family Fare performances range from $5 to $22.

In addition to the Family Fare shows, the Kravis Center presents theater shows to some 60,000 school children every year through its S*T*A*R (Students and Teachers Arts Resource) program. In many cases, the shows the students see are the same main-stage shows that are running for the general public. This year the Kravis Center is making the S*T*A*R performances available to the public at low-cost prices.

"It gives parents more of an option," spokesman Bill Underwood says. "Anyone who comes to those performances just has to understand they're going to be seeing the show with a big crowd of elementary school students."

Little Palm Family Theatre
(Palm Beach County)

If you're in the mood for a good children's play, almost any weekend of the year you can count on the Little Palm Family Theatre, which has a show running every Sunday at 3 p.m., except holidays. True to the "family theater" in its name, all of the shows are performed and produced by volunteers from age 8 to adults.

"What's nice is that many times you will have children and parents in the same show," says Kathy Biscuiti, executive director of the nonprofit organization. Little Palm Family Theatre relies on everyone to chip in wherever they can, she says.

"People are so multifaceted around here. You may find the director also working on the sets," she says. "Parents of the kids in the shows will often be the ushers, or run the sound, or help build the sets."

The shows are mostly classic children's stories, such as Aladdin, Peter Pan and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are all in the 2002-2003 lineup. Many of the scripts are original, however, such as the version of Snow White that is currently showing. "This Snow White is a comedy and a musical and has a lot of dimension to it," Biscuiti says.

Little Palm is currently using both the Little Theatre at Spanish River High School and the Crest Theatre at Old School Square for its performances. The dream, Biscuiti says, is that the company will one day have a theater of its own. Ticket prices are $10 for all shows.

Biscuiti believes that Little Palm Family Theatre and all of the children's theaters are playing an important role for families. "Our shows are 100 percent family attended," she says. "Sometimes, you'll see three generations -- the child, the parents, and the grandparents -- coming together. It's a great family activity."

Ellen Wolfson Valladares is a freelance writer and mother of two. She lives in Weston.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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