For Children 18 Months to 5 Years
Last Thursday, P (age 5), T (age 2.5), and I attended Arts on the Horizon's newest production, Out of the Box (for children 18 months to 5 years old). We really enjoyed Art on the Horizon's first production, Drumming for Dishes (click here to read our review, accompanied by info about the theater company) so we had high expectations. Luckily, Out of the Box exceeded them all.
First of all, the new space is fabulous - toys (including a soft toolbelt), chalkboard tables, books, hats of all different sorts - the theater has successfully made their "waiting room" a destination in itself. Regarding the play, Out of the Box doesn't stray far from its predecessor, in that the plot is simple and silent - just a girl playing with boxes, accompanied by a bass player and three stuffed animals who operate as "friends" and costars. Despite the sparsity of the set, Out of the Box manages to make the simple enchanting - the audience waved our hands while the girl's box/boat sailed through our imaginary waters. Later in the play a large white sheet swooped through the room, which somehow seemed magical. And P's whole face lit up when given the simple task of shaking a cardboard box. Although slow at times, Out of the Box's interactive nature kept everyone involved; a huge crowd of 4 year olds COULD NOT stop laughing; and T seat-danced to the tunes from the bass. A lot of the play's magic has to do with the casting of Tia Shearer, who plays the "girl." We've attended a few plays where an adult portrays a child, some more successful than others (and some more expensive than others) but no actor is as convincing and enchanting as Shearer.
Although Arts on the Horizon's plays are obviously written and directed for children, one should not discount their message to adults. In a gentle, nonjudgmental tone, you can almost hear the theater company whispering "look how much fun this is. and look how easy. you don't need fancy toys or a lot of time. just play with them. they're little and precious and they can teach you so much. just find a box and play. enter their world for a little while." After watching an Arts on the Horizon production I find it almost impossible to not want to jump in right away, to leave the production and just "be" with my kids for awhile.
As wonderful as I found the play, Arts on the Horizon really scored a home run with its "after the play" activities - an easy take home art project and a few "surprises" in the lobby created a place so fun that my children literally WOULD NOT leave. "Three more minutes, PLEASE. just three more minutes." Shearer came out out to meet the audience and P could not stop smiling. When asked on the way home what she loved most about the play, P replied "everything. absolutely everything." While I'm not positive that her statement is entirely correct (during a slow part P asked me, "when is this going to end?"), P's excitement serves as a great indicator of exactly what Art on the Horizon has managed to accomplish, - they've created a space and a play so interactive and engaging that everything flows together - from the toys in the lobby to the actress on the stage. And my kids refused to dissect it, they don't know exactly what they liked, but they know they wanted to stay. On Friday morning, T asked "another play today, mommy? please!" So, who knows, we may attend another performance of Out of the Box. And another.
The play runs through March 18th at Landmark Mall in Alexandria. The production moves to the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington DC from March 20-25. Tickets are $8 for children and adults (children under 12 months are free). Click here for showtimes and additional info.
For Children 4.5 Years and Up
On Saturday afternoon, P (age 5), F (age 6), and I checked out Encore Stage and Studio's production of The Magical Lamp of Aladdin. Prior to the performance, the Arlington Youth Orchestral Program mesmerized us with Aladdin-themed tunes. I'm by no means an expert on orchestra, but to my ears these kids sounded amazing. So much talent. A great way to lead in to the play.
Regarding the production itself, all of the characters are played by children, aged fourth grade through high school. The girls seemed amazed that kids could accomplish such a big task and we spent much of the car ride home discussing how hard it would be to memorize lines and convince an audience that you were really someone else. The play dragged in parts and some actors were definitely better than others. Meghan Mack, who played the royal executioner, Chop Chop, wowed us all and the girls have spent a little too much time mimicking her role (their stuffed animals live in fear). "She's just so funny, mom, so so funny." I particularly loved the monkey, played by Eva Gary, who never broke character and kept us kept us all continually engaged and amused.
All in all, my kids enjoyed the production, especially the funny bit parts (like the ex-fiance who carries the umbrella and the jewel-hungry queen). And if they ever did run into Andrew Ruhnke, the actor who plays Aladdin, I'm pretty sure my kids would assume he really owns a magic lamp.
The theater recommends the play for children 4 and up and I would take the age limit seriously. It's a full play (about 1.5 hours) with a 15 minute intermission and the sets, while well done, are simple. Toddlers probably won't "get" it.
The Magical Lamp of Aladdin runs on weekends through March 18th at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. Tickets are $10 for kids and $12 for adults. During intermission, snacks are available for purchase. For showtimes and additional information, click here.
After the play, I asked the girls to draw some pictures of the performance as "art" for this post. Then T spilled water all over everything. So, unfortunately, all I'm left with is instagram.