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Today, as a treat, I drove my son nearly two hours out into the middle of nowhere. The goal was to see Richard Jones staging of Hansel and Gretel for the Metropolitan Opera. This was not live by any means. Instead, it was a film of that production. The trip was nearly ruined due to my iphones directing us to a street of the same name in another town. This caused us to arrive fifteen minutes into the film, but I was determined to see this production. My son was less determined but mostly went along with the plan. What we saw was unexpected and mostly entertaining.

First, I must admit that Opera is not always a good choice for small children. This Opera was sung in English, but the voicing made it difficult to understand the words. I could read the subtitles flashing across the bottom of the screen, but my son did not have this benefit. Second, the contemporary and revisionist staging employed by contemporary, high-brow set designers can be confusing to children. This is an understatement. Hansel and Gretel’s home was a minimalist apartment splashed in shade’s of grey. An empty refrigerator was all that really evoked the hunger of the traditional story. The “woods” in which Hansel and Gretel became lost was yet another obvious room with woodland themed wallpaper and dark trim. Curiously, a very long table split the stage in half and it’s raison d’etre only became obvious during a dream sequence. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Witch’s “House.” There was absolutely NO gingerbread house. Contemporary, avant garde, revisionist or not, there needs to be a gingerbread house. It’s just not the same without it. In it’s place, to really confuse matters was a floor to ceiling painting. It was nearly all red with lips and exposed teeth painted on it. This was essentially a wide open mouth through which a giant tongue came to protrude. On that tongue was a ridiculously large cake. This certainly can’t be making sense to any reader. However, the set was basically a wall with a giant mouth sticking out its tongue with a cake poised on it. Hansel and Gretel couldn’t help but notice this and began to devour the cake while someone off-stage complained about “nibbling” on her house. LOL. Truly not right. About the only thing that would make sense from a child’s perspective was the final “Witch’s Kitchen.” That was a properly constructed kitchen fit for a witch.

Finally, two things really made this production shine in the end. First, the characters were marvelous. The modern parents were a bore. However, the sandman and the “creep-tree” type creatures inhabiting the forest were fantastic. A group of chefs and a fish-headed butler that inhabited a dream sequence were stellar. The witch just stole the whole show. The witch was a gentleman in drag and possible in a fat suit. He was very Monty Python and gave the production the color it needed to end with a bang. Second, food or lack thereof was the central theme of this staging, and the last seen was a veritable food fight and/or food orgy. The characters were literally covered in food, fighting with food and spitting out food left and right. They were absolutely filthy and some of the food gags were revolting. Nevertheless, it was hysterically funny.

If one could see this production live, I would definitely recommend it. The film version is a toss-up. The presence of “making of” scenes interspersed between acts detracted from the magic and showed aspects of the production that would be of no interest to many children. It may be best to leave this for adults or older children who are more experienced with Opera stagings.

My son and I recently attended a production of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol staged by a local Waldorf school. The production was fantastic. Imaginative use of the theater space, the introduction of natural elements such as tree branches and the introduction of songs focusing on poverty and compassion added to the production. It was yet another reminder of the importance of Unitarian Charles Dickens important contributions to the evolution of Christmas sentiments. In fact, on Christmas Eve, I am contemplating going to a special Unitarian lecture on the topic of Dicken’s secular contributions to the season. Ordinarily, I would bypass an event due to my son’s activity levels. However, his behavior during the stage production show that he does have the stamina and overall ability to sit quietly for an extended period of time.

Dinoman is a one-man show that features a blend of stand-up comedy, lessons about paleontology and life-size, inflatable dinosaurs. Dinoman stopped by our local library and thrilled both children and parents alike. The overall message seems to be science is cool, and that in and of itself was a valuable lesson for my son. I highly recommend Dinoman for everyone.

We made a second trip to a neighboring library to attend a book sale and a Halloween storytime. Well, the book sale consisted of nothing more than a bunch of old lady like romances and mysteries. I couldn’t muster up the desire to buy a single book even though they were all priced at a quarter. How sad. Storytime was a bit of a surprise, too. Somehow, the Halloween choice was “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I just don’t see the connection. My son liked it sufficiently, and he got a Halloween treat bag. Free goodies always win people over in any situation. They tried. We will definitely go back in the future, but we will set our expectations low. LOL.

Not So Spooky Storytime

Not So Spooky Storytime

For us, the veritable grand finale of the Halloween season was “Tales of the Night.” It was quite a drive to this event, but well worth it.

Tales of the Night takes place some ways away from us. It is both a long drive and an eventful drive up and down twisty, unlit roads. The drive finally culminates at a working farm, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This event–like many others we attended–was so popular that we had to park out in a field and walk up a hill to the venue. We were then greeted by an adorable farm stand stacked with seasonal pumpkins and possibly gourds in all varieties of color. After this brief splash of light, we were plunged into a warm and festive darkness as we made our way to the first event, a witch telling stories in a lodge warmed by fire and lit only by decorative jack-o-lanterns lining an enormous mantel. The witch was very engaging. To me, she was more of a crone with a green face and stringy hair dressed in peasant clothes. The tales she told were rustic. I could have stayed in this lodge like room all night, but there were miles to go, literally.

As we exited the lodge, we were greeted by a row of jack-o-lanterns decorating a stone wall.

Jack-O-Lantern

Jack-O-Lantern

Unbeknown to us, after we rounded the stone wall, we’d be en route down a long, snaky path that criss-crossed its way down a long hill. The hill was steep and torture on the knees. However, the cheery atmosphere and glimmer of tea lights illuminating the way was enough to keep up going. We ended up at yet another face painting kiosk on the way, which was unavoidable. Then, it was onwards and downwards to an array of events further down the hill. First, we went on a side excursion around the edge of a field. Here, we encountered various fairy tale characters (Miss Muffet, Three Pigs, Peter Pumpkin Eater, etc.) romping around in the woods at night. That was actually far more creepy than it sounds. I guess this is where the event gets its name. The characters drew us along with them as they played in the woods and regaled us with rhymes and songs and stand up comedy in some instances. After that event, we ran into witches seated on quilts telling stories to passing children, an underground haunted tomb and an enclosure with a live fox darting in and out in the dark.

Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures until we came to an indoor presentation of some classically frightening creatures like snakes, tarantulas and scorpions. My son–though generally interested in science–was not feeling the creatures and quickly wanted to get back on track for more action.

Creepy Critters

Creepy Critters

Hissing Cockroaches

Hissing Cockroaches

We didn’t have to go far to find a group of skeletons kicking back. My son sighed a sigh of release. Skeletons are just his thing.

Skeletons

Skeletons

The excitement waned again, when my son realized that we were actually on a farm. He was not expecting real chickens, pigs and sheep to be inhabiting this Halloween landscape.

Chickens

Chickens

Pigs

Pigs

The night was young however. We found other barns filled with scarecrows and owls (a family favorite) and fun things to actually play with.

Scarecrow

Scarecrow

Owl

Owl

Brush a Horse Tail

Brush a Horse Tail

Saddle Horses

Saddle Horses

Cow Learning Station

Cow Learning Station

After the last of these educational barns, the fun really picked up. We wandered into an unlit greenhouse filled with pumpkins and gourds. It was quite a site to behold. We’re not even sure if we were supposed to go in there, but that was fun! Just outside the greenhouse doors were little vegetable plots used to teach children–presumably–how to plant. For the purpose of the event, each little plot was decorated with a humorous gravestone and a few skeleton arms and legs reached out of the ground here and there. In this same general area, an educator stood by an open pen containing a 40 vulture with one wing. The vulture had been injured by a car and had been cared for by the farm for forty long years. Onlookers were astonished by the longevity of the creature and a bit grossed out by the remains of the mouse or rat that it had been eating.

After we wrapped up our time wandering the various sights in the middle of the farm, we went looking for hayrides on its outskirts. It took some doing to find them, but we did manage to end our farm adventure with a hayride through a field filled with skeletons, bonfires, pumpkin headed creatures and other horrors. Quite a night!

My son and I showed up at a library expecting one of those book sales. Oops! Somehow, I got the wrong date persisted in my iphone calendar. Sadly, there was no book sale. We were off by a week. However, the trip proved worthwhile. I came across a curious poster for some sort of trail of terror through the woods. I decided that my son and I would visit this trail of terror after I finished up teaching Sunday School at our Unitarian Church. What I did not realize at the time was that this was a very special, annual event was sponsored by a camp that provides special programming to individuals with autism and other special needs.

When we showed up, it was a dull and dreary day. The weather and out of the way location of the event likely contributed to it being likely populated. I didn’t expect much. However, I was eager to figure out just where it was we had driven to. Almost immediately, it was obvious that this was some sort of working campground right in the middle of a small town. I thought it a bit strange, but my son loved it. There was a pool, playground and other outdoor recreational accoutrements appropriate for camping.

Camp Playground

Camp Playground

As per normal, I had to tear my son away from the playground so that we could explore the actual event itself. As one might expect, we discovered more of those carnival games that colored our whole Halloween season.

The games were quaint and fun. However, the real fun at the event was the haunted cabins. Apparently, camp staff had cleaned out all of the cabins and re-purposed them for the event. Each cabin that we entered had a different theme. One cabin was set aside for face painting and tattoos. A few cabins had themes suitable for small kids. The first batch of cabins had Candy Land, Willy Wonka and Rain Forest themes. The Candy Land and Willy Wonka cabins consisted of teens stationed around the interior of the cabins. Each teen had a game on offer and willing children were treated with candy for playing along. The Rain Forest cabin had one teen leading children through an array of rain forest scenery all the while prompting children to locate certain animals. The next grouping of cabins had more scary fare. The Dark Woods Circus cabin had an entire circus rammed into its small space. Side show acts, fortune tellers, trapeze artists, sword swallowers and so forth all piled inside with creepy effect. A Haunted Toy box had a myriad dolls and stuffed animals hung from the ceiling. Monsterous little kids circulated around the dark spaces of this cabin. A mad scientist’s lab and fortune teller hut rounded out the ring of cabins comprising the event.

Finally, we made our way to the Haunted Trail advertised in the library. The trail was quite fun. It was a real trail leading into woods behind the special needs camp. Local high school students decorated the woods surround the trail with old school furniture to create the illusion of a defunct school that had been bulldozed over and almost all but vanished. There was accompanying story to go with the spectacle and our trail guide–an undead school jock–made sure to reveal the sad and spooky tale bit by bit as we made our way deeper into the woods. Along the way, other undead school denizens like cheerleaders and gym teachers were sure to jump out at us and liven things up, so to speak.

My son and I were intrigued by the appearance of a handmade and hand-painted ghost shaped sign near the town square. The sign was advertising a “haunted house” event at a local middle school on the other side of town. I googled the school and determined that the “haunted house” was really a “haunted pirate ship” themed event. I am not a huge fan of pirates and neither is my son. However, I was definitely up for a whole new experience. My son and I then showed up at the appointed hour and were quite impressed. Teachers and students used a variety of fabrics and tarps to turn a cafeteria into a cruise ship. Students divvied up portions of the blocked out cafeteria and created scenes from a typical cruise. There were casinos, shuffleboard, a cabins, and so forth. The twist of course is that this was a ship overrun by the undead and subsequently lost at sea. My son and I had quite a ball hurrying through the cruise, and it was quite a scare. My son had ZERO interest in doing that again! However, he was thrilled to find a gymnasium filled with more carnival games. These were the typical ring toss-type games. However, the students went all out in an attempt to match the games to the cruise theme. Case in point, tossing bones through life preservers instead of balls through holes. Apart from the games, there were also face painting, tattoo and hair coloring tables. My son has developed quite a thing for face painting and he had himself done up like a cat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any pictures of this, as the cruise ship was pitch dark and the iphone camera is not made for this type of lighting condition.

Outside the Haunted Cruise

Outside the Haunted Cruise

Cruise Swag (Eye Patch, Green Teetch, etc.)

Cruise Swag (Eye Patch, Green Teeth, etc.)

The local library has some sort of city wide kid’s book club that promotes the reading of specific books to the entire community. Recently, the library chose to recommend votes after young library patrons first voted from among six or so choices. The winning choice was The Sisters Grimm. Apparently this book or the original Brothers Grimm writings were the inspiration for the library Halloween party. All three floors of the library were decked out with scenes from Grimm stories. The first floor had various carnival-type games (e.g., ring tosses) and decorated stations from which children could get candy from costumed teens. The second floor had more carnival games secreted among the rows of books. A side room was set aside for the making of crafts. A DJ took over a large room and blasted Halloween favorites such as Thriller and Ghostbusters. The basement floor containing the children’s reading room was done over with a haunted woods theme. Children and parents were lead through the “woods” by a teen “huntsman.” It was quite a production and surprisingly harrowing for a library haunted house event.

Trick or Treat in the Library

Trick or Treat in the Library

Haunted Library Cont.

Haunted Library Cont.

Haunted Library Cont.

Haunted Library Cont.

The Halloween Howl was a fantastic party event also hosted by the local library. The “Howl” featured a singer who wowed the kiddie crowd with an array of songs, games and puppets. The songs ranged from the simple ABC song to vintage Patti Page to pre-recorded party music such as La Bamba. At least one song was performed by the singer and her accompanying ventriloquist and other songs were illustrated with various puppets. When the focus was not on singing, children enjoyed the limbo, tossing beach balls to Beach Boy style music to shaking maracas and chasing bubbles. Once the uproar from the party style music died down, the singer reappeared as a witch and performed various Halloween related skits with spooky puppet characters. Everyone needs a little “Halloween Howl” in their lives. 🙂

Pre-Howl...

Pre-Howl...

Howl!

Howl!

Monster Puppet

Monster Puppet

The library has become our best friend lately. One of the more no-frills, no-thrills offerings is a drop-in crafting table. One can literally drop-in to a side room, look at some crafting project examples and walk out with a handful of free supplies. One then completes the craft(s) at home at his or her leisure. Here are two crafts made using examples from the drop-in crafts table.

Hanging Cat & Bear

Hanging Cat & Bear