Monday, November 23, 2009

The Holiday Arts Roundup

Ok, so every year everyone calls and emails me about this time and asks: What should I take my kid to see? So to save you time, I present the Holiday Performance Round Up for the Chicago Area.

The first thing you have to figure out is WHY are you going to see something. As a mom who favors EXPERIENCES over OBJECTS, I think going to see shows and movies during the holidays is more calorie conscious than my usual eating myself silly at some party, and its more ecological than driving around and then waiting in horrible crowds and lines to buy stuff I really don’t need and will neverget put away. So I go to a show as a way of being festive and green, and having fun with my kids. But don’t go see the Nutcracker because you feel like you HAVE to. Going to a show should be a transformational event, a memory, a gift, so you have to pick the right ones and pace yourself carefully.

Here in Chicago we are blessed with the cream of the crop of tip top professional productions: the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker which is as good as NYCB (sorry George) and is in the Auditorium Theater, a space that is more magical than any venue in the United States. But if your child cannot sit through 2 plus hours of formal ballet, don’t spend the money yet. Ditto on the Goodman Theater version of A Christmas Carol. If you have older kids who can appreciate great acting talent and Broadway quality production values,crack open the piggy bank and forego something else and go. If you have kids that bounce on seats (and kick the one in front of them) and don’t know the difference between a movie and a live show, wait another year at least.

There are plenty of community theater versions of Nutcracker and Christmas Carol to go to at a theater near you. Look for abridged versions. And it’s best to go to the one that is most convenient---great if you know someone in the cast, or that’s not too expensive so if your kid spikes a fever two hours before the curtain you don’t want to murder them, and you can gift the tickets to some last minute mom in need of a break without resenting the recipient too much…. There are even interactive play along versions of holiday classics now---my daughter created Evanston’s Dance It Yourself Nutcracker and there is a fun one at the Cultural Center on Washington and Michigan Avenue. And of course, this year, we have a new MOVIE version of A Christmas Carol!!! And speaking of movies—our family has always had a holiday tradition of cuddling up with a nice warm bucket of popcorn and enjoying all types of cinema. Can’t recommend It’s a Wonderful Life enough--- after 20 years I still cry. And you really can watch A Christmas Story every year. There is something reassuring and comforting about watching the same stories over and over. I still read Patricia Polacco’s The Tree of the Dancing Goats, and The Hanukkah Guest from Eric Kimmel (whose Hanukkah Goblins are also staples at our house), and now Lemony Snicket’s Latke That Couldn’t Stop Screaming every darn year to my kids who are way too old for bedtime stories….So drag Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas out (or get it in Blu Ray, or OMG dig out the VCR you kept for history) and gather round. My kids still call it the Abdominal Snowman who scares the misfit Toys on that retro 70’s animation of Rudolph. We know all the lines, all the songs, and we LOVE that. This year's holiday releases do not suck. We are looking forward to Wes Anderson adapting Roald Dahl!

But back to the live performances—and non denominational ones. Head off the beaten path and over to Victory Gardens for The Snow Queen. For some reason Blair Thomas’ puppets and the score have captured my kids’ imagination and it’s a new holiday tradition, complete with playing the CD to fall asleep. And then there is the Redmoon Winter Pageant, my personal holiday tradition. They always surprise me with some visual feast—I leave sated, and completely unable to explain what I just saw with words.

If you are going to bundle up and schlep somewhere, make it a true holiday highlight. Create some tradition that goes with the show—cocoa afterwards, or driving by the windows on State Street on the way home, or maybe you have a cookie hidden in your purse. Some folks like dressing up—I have kids who HATE anything itchy so we let you wear pajamas to a show (under your coat) if you want. Nice pajamas of course. Ladies, if you want to wear a tutu or tiara--do it.

Do whatever it takes to make being together special, warm and memorable.