Kids explore the creative processduring a free acting workshopat the Santa Monica Playhouse.
Kids explore the creative process
during a free acting workshop
at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
Your eight-year-old daughter saw the TV ads for Arabian Nights, and now she's eager to see the Bob Baker Marionette's puppet production of that story. Your rambunctious 11-year-old nephew keeps hinting about catching the wacky antics of The Umbilical Brothers' Thwak over at the Tiffany. You've got a teenager studying Shakespeare in school who's bugging you to see Hamlet at the Odyssey, and your significant other is dying to head over to the Ahmanson for the latest Broadway touring show, The Scarlet Pimpernel. And you? You wouldn't mind driving out to the Hermosa Beach Playhouse to laugh yourself silly at two grown men playing all the loopy redneck residents of Tuna, Texas in Greater Tuna.

How do you please everybody without rupturing your bank account?

Now you can, during the third-annual "Kids' Week at the Theatre," running April 30-May 7. Approximately 40 theaters and performers in the greater Los Angeles area are offering free or discounted tickets to kids 18 and under. Schedules of events are available at all branches of the LA Public Library, as well as at the festival's Website, www.kidsweek.org.

Kids' Week at the Theatre is a joint effort between A.S.K. Theatre Projects and Theatre LA. While the idea for the event came from New York's annual "Kids' Night on Broadway," Los Angeles has embraced the concept and expanded it to an entire week. In addition to the dozens of shows available, several theaters are offering backstage tours, presenting pre- and post-show discussions, putting on special workshops, and allowing kids to sit in at open dress rehearsals.

"The thing that's important about 'Kids' Week' is that it's something that's shared between children and their parents," explains Carl Weintraub, founder and artistic director of We Tell Stories, which will be performing at the downtown L.A. Public Library. "We do this show, Why Two Kay???, in the schools all the time. And that's fine. But what's most important is for kids to appreciate art with their parents. We want this to be a jumping-off place for communication. There's always something to talk about when you leave the theater; it's a wonderful way to inspire dialogue and communication."

Everyone agrees that bringing young kids to the theater is the best way to ensure future theater-loving audiences. Nathan Birnbaum, an artistic associate at A.S.K. and one of the festival's co-producers, remembers seeing John Gielgud in a Oedipus Rex when he was 12 years old, and says that experience has become a touchstone for him.

"I certainly didn't understand all of it," he admits, "but I'm 43, and I still remember just about every second of that production. I think a lot of people who are performing arts professionals or who love the performing arts are people whose first experiences were at a fairly young age, in situations where they were challenged. I know other directors who talk about their experience at age 10, 11, 12, 13, not at a kid's show--which is fun and great and all that--but at an adult show. They tell how it changed their lives and opened up worlds not just in theater, but in literature, philosophy--things that they carried with them all the way through college."

Lars Hansen, president of Theatre LA, agrees with Birnbaum's philosophy. "All of us who have ended up working in this field were exposed to theater early in life," Hansen says. "Storytelling has been around for thousands and thousands of years, and the live storytelling experience is powerful, unique, and very valuable. [With 'Kids' Week'], we can hopefully break down the barriers of economics, access, and flow of information, to focus the spotlight on the opportunities."

Those opportunities are many, varied, and not just for the youngest set. The event may be called "Kids' Week," but there's plenty to attract teenagers as well: The Antaeus Company's revival of Arthur Miller's first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, is one example.

"Unlike most of Miller's plays, this one is about young people," explains Antaeus' managing director, Dakin Matthews. "The protagonists are all in their twenties, and that's one of the reasons why we wanted to participate in 'Kids' Week.' Also, virtually every high school kid reads Death of a Salesman in school, and this play is the inverse of that one. It's a look at the mix between fate, family, and justice in the world. Also, as a classical company, we find 'Kids' Week' to be particularly good because, if these kids have ever had any contact with classic plays, it's been in the classroom--where, sometimes they're pretty bored by them. To see classic plays in productions that are accessible means that there will be a future for the classics in their lives."

Bilingual storyteller Antonio Sacre will offera free performance at the 24th Street Theatreduring Kids' Week.
Bilingual storyteller Antonio Sacre will offer
a free performance at the 24th Street Theatre
during Kids' Week.

Accessibility is also an issue for the large Hispanic population in Los Angeles. The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts is committed to bringing the best of Spanish theater to Los Angeles--and that means both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences. Performances are offered in each language on alternate weeks. B.F.A.'s dramaturg, Agustin Coppola, adapted and directed the company's current production of Calderon de la Barca's 17th century cloak-and-dagger comedy The Phantom Lady. He explained B.F.A.'s goals by saying, "It's a wonderful opportunity to teach our next generation what this type of theater is all about. And, for people who have no link to it, we can show them how rich the Hispanic community and culture is. You have to create a love of theater in the kids," he stresses. "It's so difficult to compete with TV and film."

From the South Bay to the San Fernando Valley, from Long Beach to Pasadena, theaters all over are working to do the same. And "Kids' Week at the Theatre" is a great opportunity for both kids and adults to see how they're doing it.