Long lines at food booths and an invasion of hornets discouraged some patrons at last year's Theatre Arts Festival for Youth--TAFFY for short. This year, festival producers promise patron-friendly changes.
Now in its eighth year, the showcase of professional children's singers, puppeteers, comedians, musicians and other performers will return to the Peter Strauss Ranch (Lake Enchanto) in the Santa Monica Recreation area in Agoura on Oct. 10-11.
In addition to performances there will again be arts workshops, Children's Hospital's Doll and Bear Clinic, a 40-foot-long nylon whale and a roving band of Victorian animal characters called the Puddledumplin' Players interacting with children and holding a mayoral election.
"Last year was a winning year artistically, but a losing year financially," said John Wood, TAFFY co-producer. "And we can't blame it on the bees. It was the first time we'd done two full weekends, and we found there weren't enough people to accommodate those two weekends." (An estimated 8,500 children and parents attended the 1991 event.)
"The biggest change this year is that there will be more booths for food and we're moving them down to a more shaded area where the eucalyptus trees are. We're going to set up a stage there where entertainers will perform throughout the day while people eat.
"Also, we will still have events that will be going on concurrently, but they will start at the same time, on the hour; some will end at different times. We feel there won't be that racing back and forth from one stage to another."
About last year's pesky insects, Wood said, "I think we helped encourage them by having the festival go over two weekends--with the Dumpster in place the whole week, they probably sent out for relatives.
"Also, I don't think we'll have the same problem because it was an infestation throughout the entire Los Angeles area last year--the L.A. Zoo was inundated too."
Just in case, though, soft drinks will be sold only in cans and other containers, not in soft drink dispensers, which seemed to be the hornets' favorite stop last year.
There will be "plenty of free bottled water as well," Wood said.
Among the entertainers will be singers Dan Crow and Peter Alsop, the Magical Moonshine Theatre and the Troyans' comical Brown Bag Moscow Circus.
New to the festival are Bonnie Phipps and the Elastic Band from Colorado--"she's very gentle with the kids and the band is very tight"--Vocal Works, a group that re-creates '30s and '40s musical radio broadcasts, Inca with its Peruvian music and dance and San Francisco's Ranka Revue, "a very classy marionette show that I've been trying to get for four years," Wood said.
Wood produces the festival with his wife, Pam Wood--the two of them are known for their J.P. Nightingale children's music and theater troupe, and as perennial hosts of the Hollywood Bowl's Open House children's summer arts series.
"I think TAFFY is unique in that there's a little something for everybody there," Wood said. "We really do promote ours as a family event. Whatever Dan Quayle or Murphy Brown say the family unit is," he joked, " 'all of the above' are welcome at our festival."
* "Taffy," Peter Strauss Ranch (Lake Enchanto), 30000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura, Oct. 10-11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $8-$10, under age 3, free; (213) 480-3232, (818) 998-2339.