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The Play's The Thing

By Orian Haller Greene

Swine LakeOne December my husband and I took our two children to see the Boston Ballet production of The Nutcracker. We spent the equivalent of a week's worth of groceries on first balcony seats, figuring we should do it right and see everything. Parking cost the price of a new CD and it took us an hour to drive there and home. The Nutcracker was a superb show, and the children enjoyed every minute of it, until the final curtain when our five year-old discovered we weren't really going to buy him the orange soda he had seen at intermission. He dissolved in tears.

The following April we took the children to see the local high school production of Finian's Rainbow. We spent $8 for third row seats, parking was free, and it was a five-minute drive from our house. The show was exuberant and the children enjoyed every minute of it. Furthermore, one of our babysitters played the clarinet in the orchestra, our doctor's daughter was in the chorus, and a boy in the neighborhood had the lead. At the final curtain our children were so engrossed in clapping for their friends that orange soda never entered their minds.

The point here is not to denigrate The Nutcracker, which certainly needs no defense from me, but to show that a small investment in local theatre may provide big rewards.

I like saving money, but there are even more compelling reasons to seek out local theater for children. The most important reason is its immediacy. The prima ballerina of a major ballet company, or the star of a Broadway show is an adult and, unless you are very lucky, a stranger. But you are almost certain to know, or at least recognize, someone in a local production.

Another advantage of local productions, particularly those put on by junior and senior high schools or church groups, is that they have already been screened for juveniles. A third advantage is accessibility. The "theater" is usually close to home and easy to get to. It is possible to get very good seats by arriving a little early.

I have avoided discussing quality for obvious reasons. The local high school is not the Old Vic, and the boy down the street is not Laurence Olivier, but I don't think it matters very much. The play's the thing, after all, and a good play can withstand even a pretty amateurish production and still give a lot of satisfaction. Besides, some of the shows we have seen have been remarkably good by any standard.

Once you begin to look there are many places to find amateur theater. The local newspaper generally lists what is going on in your area. There are junior and senior high school productions, college drama clubs, amateur theaters, and church groups. These groups want audiences; they deserve to have them. When you support local theater, you are not only giving your children a wonderful time at a very modest price, but you are also encouraging the talents for the professional stages of the future.

Orian Haller Greene is a free-lance writer, a teacher, and the mother of Anna and Ned.

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