From scientists to superheroes, girls are front and center on our city’s stages, and they’re ready to share valuable lessons with all the budding feminists in your family.
October 19 to November 17
Oregon Children’s Theatre
Best for ages 5 and older
“I was craving a great female character to headline a play,” explains Marcella Crowson, director of Me…Jane. She found one in an imaginative musical about the dreams and adventures of a young Jane Goodall.
This is the story of 10-year-old Jane Goodall and her stuffed monkey doll, Jubilee. Based on the book by Patrick McDonnell, Me…Jane is a joyous celebration of Goodall’s early love of animals, her curiosity and her marvel of the world around her. “We go lots of places with Jane. Her backyard becomes a laboratory to explore the natural world,” says Crowson. “We go to Africa and back again.”
Five actors tell the story, playing Goodall, Goodall’s mother, chickens, squirrels and a menagerie of wildlife. There are 18 songs in the hour-long show. “The music is beautiful, and there’s so much that’s funny,” says Crowson. Three squirrels, intoxicated by all the things they’re going to dig up, even sing a song called, Spring Feast. “The squirrels are going nuts, pun intended,” laughs Crowson.
The girl who grew up to be a famous animal rights activist and scientist knew what she wanted to do from a very young age. Goodall pursued a dream that lit her up and inspired a lifelong adventure. “It’s a play with a girl at the center of it, but it isn’t a girl play,” explains Crowson. Me…Jane is for everyone — girls, boys and adults, too.
“Children are smart. They can be very astute about where their passion lies at a very young age,” says Crowson. “Our job as adults is to make a way for them to honor those instincts. Adults and children will recognize the value of sticking to a dream.”
» Also onstage: Dragons Love Tacos comes to the Oregon Children’s Theatre stage in January. A show for all ages and every child who loves dragons. «
PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL
All ages: Free for kids
For book lovers, the second Saturday in November is one unmissable day: The Portland Book Festival returns to the Park Blocks. With 100-plus authors and nine stages, the literary happening mixes art and authors, performance and panel discussions, illustration and exploration. It’s a celebration for everyone who loves books.
Here’s how to make the most of the festival with kids: Park your stroller at the Oregon Historical Society. Storytime at the kids’ stage begins at 9 am. Emily Arrow, a musician who writes songs based on picture books, will host and sing! As the day goes on, the books age up. In the afternoon, look for panel discussions with your favorite grade-school authors.
Then, pop into a pop-up event at the Portland Art Museum. Writers are paired with art in the museum collection that matches a theme in their work. You might catch a reading, a discussion or a live illustration.
You can also meet the makers IRL. At the book fair, children’s books get their own special section, and writers and illustrators are on hand to sign books and meet your kiddos. It can be really powerful for kids to realize that the books they love are written by real people, including many female authors. Meet Vicki Conrad, who wrote a Beverly Cleary biography for young readers. Just Like Beverly tells the story of the cherished children’s author’s Oregon girlhood. Author and athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad will also be at the festival with The Proudest Blue, a story of hijab and family. (At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Muhammad was the first American athlete to compete wearing a hijab.) For school-age readers, the festival features fantastic graphic novelists, from Rivka Galchen and her Rat Rule 79, to Raina Telgemeier and her newest book: Guts.
“One of the coolest parts about going to the book festival is discovering something new,” says Bullock. “Be open to discoverable moments and those chance encounters. Be open to the unexpected.”
CASTLES AND WIZARDS
Oregon Symphony, with Pacific Youth Choir and DanceWest
Best for ages 4 and older
“Listening is a learned thing. We all need to practice,” says Pam Mahon, teaching artist and narrator of the Oregon Symphony’s beloved Kids Series concerts. And what better way to practice listening than to fall under the spell of Castles and Wizards and the Oregon Symphony?
You’ll hear classical orchestra greats, like Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and a pop-culture smash from powerful princesses that your little ones probably already know (and love). “Frozen 2 is coming out, so we’ll do Let it Go,” promises the conductor, Norman Huynh. Listen for Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia and a new composition by Anna Clyne titled Masquerade. And for fans of Hermione Granger, the cleverest witch of her age, there will be music from the Harry Potter movies, too.
“It always starts with a bang,” says Huynh. Musical ideas are introduced to invite listening: Kids are encouraged to imagine a story, picture an image, listen for a particular instrument or find a character’s theme.
There’s also lots to see onstage. From the orchestra to the kids performing with the Portland Youth Choir and Dance West, there are nearly 100 people onstage. Mahon narrates in costume; perhaps she’ll be a wizard-in-training or a grand magician. You’ll have to come and see, and you’re welcome to bring your wand and don your wizarding robes, too.
“Coming to a live performance is such a great way to see how noise and sound can be made naturally. There’s no speaker system in the world that sounds as good as a live orchestra,” promises Huynh. Who knows? Your kid might just fall in love with the violin.
“These concerts are kids’ concerts, but there’s as much joy on the faces of the adults — to have that moment with their child,” says Mahon.
» Also onstage: Oregon Symphony will perform Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra at the Kids Series concert on February 2. «
MATILDA: THE MUSICAL
December 7 to January 5
Northwest Children’s Theater
Best for ages 5 and older
In Matilda: The Musical, only the kids can save the day. The musical was a Broadway smash hit and Tony award winner, so expect great music and big dance numbers in this NWCT production. Based on a classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, Matilda: The Musical combines the funny and the frightening to delicious effect. “Our audiences love Roald Dahl,” says Sarah Jane Hardy, artistic director of the Northwest Children’s Theater (NWCT). NWCT has a long relationship with Dahl’s storytelling style, having staged works like Willy Wonka, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach.
Matilda lives in a Gotham-esque world where the adults are ridiculous, very bad or useless. “There are many, many, bad guys in the show,” says Hardy. “They are all ridiculous. They look silly. They’re not smart. They make dumb choices, and they do dumb things.”
So Matilda must use her skills (and one special superpower) to save herself, write her own story, and lead a revolution against an evil headmistress. “Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it,” Matilda sings. “Even if you’re little you can do a lot. You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.”
“Matilda is a cerebral, intellectual, imaginative, creative, powerful, young female child. She’s a remarkable character and so desperately needed right now for children,” says Hardy.
Matilda’s class agrees, with lyrics that seem eerily relevant to today’s climate. “We are revolting children living in revolting times,” they sing. “We’ll be revolting children till our revolt is done.”
And who knows, watching Matilda challenge her circumstances might just ignite some activism in your child. “It’s tremendously powerful for kids to hear that you can write your own story,” says Hardy. “It sparks passion, imagination, belief in yourself.”
» Also onstage: How I Became a Pirate sets sail now through October 13 at NWCT. Most enjoyed by kids ages 4 and older. «
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
Oregon Ballet Theater
Best for ages 7 and older
“When you experience beauty, it’s another way of appreciating the world around you,” says Kevin Irving, artistic director at Oregon Ballet Theater (OBT). “In a ballet performance, parents can share that with their kids.”
The Sleeping Beauty, with music by Tchaikovsky, is a pinnacle of classical ballet. It is a sincere and beautiful fairy tale, lushly lit and gorgeously costumed, with no room for cynicism or sarcasm. But in 2019, what do we tell our kids about this classical, un-ironic princess? Beautiful and helpless, she pricks her finger on a needle and falls asleep until a prince comes to her rescue.
Irving encourages us to look to the ballerina behind that story. In any ballet performance, one of the lessons onstage is that dreams are built on hard work. “For the women who practice professional ballet, the amount of muscle, determination and real grit that they have is often not apparent in the art form,” he says. “Every morning, that ballerina is working to become a stronger performer and athlete. It takes a lot of power to be that delicate.”
The Sleeping Beauty is long, running 2 hours and 45 minutes, with two intermissions (the last act is the shortest). If your kids have made it through The Nutcracker, they’ll love it, and OBT loves having children at their shows.
“It’s a grown-up evening, but it’s not entertainment that requires a lot of handholding,” says Irving. The familiar story invites children and adults to discover the beauty of ballet. “It’ll feel familiar, but in a way, more alive.”
A PDX Performing Arts Scavenger Hunt!
See if you can spot these connections on Portland stages this fall. It’s fun, and it will help your kids get more out of the shows. “We all gravitate toward things that we’re familiar with,” says Oregon Symphony Conductor Norman Huynh.
➊ Go see the Oregon Symphony perform Castles and Wizards. Listen for a piece of music from Tchiakovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, then see OBT’s ballet and try to hear the same theme.
➋ At the Portland Book Festival, watch the cast of Matilda: The Musical preview a song on the kids’ stage. Then go see the show at NWCT
and sing along!
➌ Check out Me… Jane at the library, or any of the other books that inspired shows, and read before you go.
- Spring Arts Preview - February 20, 2020
- Fall Arts Preview - October 27, 2019
- Spring Arts Preview: Portland-area Performances for Families - March 18, 2019