Spring Arts Preview: Portland-area Performances for Families

Productions that’ll inspire your kids to play fair, dance big, think differently and join the creative resistance.

From world-premiere children’s shows to a rollicking master of modern tap, there’s a lot to see on Portland stages this spring. This season, we’re highlighting shows for everyone to enjoy — no matter your age. Take your kiddos to soak up revolutionary songs or transport your entire clan across cultures (and oceans) with a joyful dance extravaganza from Northwest Children’s Theater.

Each of these shows will open hearts and minds (yes, even yours, grown-ups) to new ideas and lots of joy —and isn’t that what creativity is really all about?



Long ago there lived three fierce warriors. From the Kingdom
of Backyard came Rock, from the Empire of Mom’s Home Office came Paper, and from a messy village in the Junk Drawer Realm came Scissors.

This spring on the Oregon Children’s Theatre stage, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors begins … or should we say continues. The best-selling book by Drew Daywalt is now a world-premiere musical in Portland and director Stan Foote is stoked.

“It’s fun, fun, fun. It’s hilarious — and the music is rocking,” says Foote, who is also OCT’s Artistic Director.

The warriors Rock, Paper and Scissors roam the land (er, the house) looking for worthy opponents and an epic — and epically funny — battles ensue. The show is funny for adults: Paper battles Printer to a tune called, It’s My Jam. And it’s funny for kids: Rock clashes with Clothespin in a giant pair of underpants. Need we say more?

OCT knows their audience. When the lights go down there’s no shushing needed. Kids can rock out to the rock n’ roll number, dance to the disco, or sing along with Latin pop. “I want kids to be kids. I want kids to get lost in the experience,” says Foote. “You’re going to cheer and you’re going to pick sides.”


The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors also tackles bigger questions about fair play and honest competition. The classic game that inspired the story is a way for kids to make decisions fairly and come to agreements quickly. “It is such a universal way to decide. It takes out strength and it takes out volume,” says Foote. “The only confusing thing is whether you go on three or after three.”

These days, that sounds like a life lesson about which we could all use a refresher.

March 2-April 14
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Oregon Children’s Theatre
All Ages

Want to encourage your kiddos to think outside the box and explore across cultures? Go see Northwest Children’s Theater’s Tenali: The Royal Trickster.

“He definitely teaches creative problem solving,” laughed Anita Menon, the show’s co-director and choreographer.

Tenali was a real-life poet in 16th century India, famous for using wit and humor to get the king out of sticky situations. He’s still a beloved folk hero today and Tenali stories are still told to children. “I’d grown up listening to stories of Tenali and really enjoyed them,” says Menon. “My own kids growing up in America loved to hear these stories.”

The new Northwest Children’s Theater show is brought to us from the creative team behind recent hits Chitra: The Girl Prince and The Jungle Book. Playwright Avantika Shankar, choreographer and co-director Anita Menon, and Artistic Director and co-director Sarah Jane Hardy have as much to teach us about thinking outside the box as the royal trickster himself.

“Avantika lives in India but has a wonderful view of both worlds,” says Menon. The playwright was trained in New York and is based in Mumbai. In her newest play, the King’s beloved peacock crown disappears and Tenali must uncover the culprit. Expect mystery, laughter, wit — and some breathtaking dance.

A cast of 17 actors will perform Menon’s choreography. She blends Western influences with traditional Indian Bharatanatyam dance. “It’s a very classical form,” explains Menon. “Bharatanatyam is to Bollywood what ballet is to Beyoncé. It takes years of training — you’ve got to learn, and earn, your calluses.”

The dancers will be backed by live music. “I’m very excited about the live music,” says Menon. “It brings a whole different flavor.” Six musicians will play authentic Carnatic music, an acoustic style that originates in South India. Its bright, joyful melodies are made with cymbals, traditional drums, and an instrument called a morsing that creates a toe-tapping twang.

Even the costumes are crossing oceans and cultures. In India, Menon’s mother, Suvarna, is designing costumes for the dancers. They’ll be designed and made there and then shipped to Portland for the show. “It’ll be a treat for your eyes and ears — there’s something for everyone,” says Menon. “I hope that the audience will be blown away by the dance numbers.”

Tenali will leave you dancing in the aisles — Menon guarantees it. During the show, you’ll learn some dance moves so that you and your kiddos can boogie along with the cast.

April 20-May 12
Tenali: The Royal Trickster
Northwest Children’s Theater
Most enjoyed by ages 5 and up

More kids’ theater: Jason and the Argonauts, and Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly are both on the OCT stage this spring.


It’s funky, it’s loose, it’s live, it’s high energy: It’s signature Savion Glover.

The tap dance kid who exploded onto the New York stage in 1995 with Bring in ‘Da Noise is now a master of his form. He returns to Portland this spring for the first time in more than 15 years with a new show Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’d Up, The Concert.

“He’s widely considered the greatest tap dancer — really, one of the greatest performing artists today,” says Walter Jaffe, co-founder of White Bird. The Portland company that has been bringing world-class modern dance to Portland audiences for over 20 years is bringing Glover to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for two nights in April. (Fun Fact: The company is named after a real white bird. His name is Barney and he’s a 31-year-old cockatoo.)

“It’s not just the tap, he has this amazing musicality,” Jaffe continues. Glover’s hard-hitting, muscular dance is thrilling to watch — and rip-roaring to hear. Performed with a tap ensemble and a live band, the propulsive percussion can practically lift an audience out of its seat.

And you’ll never see the same show twice. “Tap is pretty spontaneous — and Savion thinks of himself as a jazz musician,” says Jaffe. “There’s nothing set about what he does. It’ll be an exciting show.”

White Bird loves bringing kids to modern dance — and you’re welcome to bring yours, too. “Absolutely kids are welcome. We love kids,” says Jaffe.

Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’d Up, The Concert 
Most enjoyed by ages 4 and up
April 9-10 whitebird.org

More magical movement: Cirque du Soleil presents Corteo at the Moda Center March 14-17. cirquedusoleil.com/corteo
May 10-11


“As a parent, part of my job is to expose kids to the world of art and performance — and the stuff that wasn’t made for commercial markets,” says Ruth Juliet Wikler, mother of two kids, ages 7 and 9.

Lucky for the rest of us, Wikler is both a parent and the curator and producer at Boom Arts, which brings Primer for a Failed SuperPower to Portland May 10 and 11 at The Old Church in downtown Portland.

Primer is an electrifying mix of social justice and protest, community choir and all-ages punk rock show, of video installation and live music. It’s also the Portland premiere of celebrated New York City theater ensemble, the TEAM. “Their work is open-hearted, substantive, and not aloof,” says Wikler. “It’s in the great tradition of American experimental theater.”

In Primer, a local choir of teens, 30-somethings, and baby boomers will perform iconic protest songs from across the generations. It’s a cross-generational mashup of songs, styles and new compositions. The thumping Which Side Are You On, by Martha Redbone and Aaron Whitby will have you stomping in your seat.

The live music is punctuated by video interviews with activists from across the country. Primer offers families a chance to hear from a co-chair of The Women’s March, a food activist, a Standing Rock water protector, and many more. Their words and work are sure to spark big conversations on the ride home.

“The theme of our season is festive revolution and that’s exactly what Primer is,” says Wikler. “It’s food for our souls for fighting the good fight.”

Primer for a Failed Superpower
May 10-11
Recommended for ages 8 and up

More music: Littles will love Green Eggs and Ham or Peter and the Wolf, presented by the Oregon Symphony as part of their Kids Series Concerts. March 3 and April 14. orsymphony.org

Oregon Symphony The spooky, moody movie Coraline was among Portland home-grown studio LAIKA’s first bona-fide hits. Help celebrate the movie’s 10-year anniversary in style on the big screen with the full symphony playing the score on March 22. orsymphony.org.

http://pacificyouthchoir.orgPacific Youth Choir Share the love of music-making! Ten choirs, with singers aged 5 to 19, develop musicianship, tone, and artistry by making music together. May 19. pacificyouthchoir.org

A Star is Born: Kids on Stage

“When kids see themselves on stage they see a possibility for themselves,” says Stan Foote of OCT. “There’s great, great value in seeing the show that’s going on at your high school.”

Talented kids grace stages all over town this spring. Here’s where to find them:

Verselandia! 2019 
Listen as teenage poets compete and perform original work at Grand Slam! presented by Literary Arts, an annual high school poetry 
slam. April 25. literary-arts.org

Polaris Neo and Jr. Company Show 
Come play! Young dancers will perform a variety of pieces about kids need-ing to be kids and adults needing to be child-like sometimes, too. May 11. polarisdance.org

Oregon Ballet Theatre 
Annual School Performance Get swept away by the energy, artistry and technique of the next generation of dancers from Oregon Ballet
Theatre School and OBT2. June 15 and 16. obt.org

Christian Youth Theater
Follow Wendy, John and Michael Darling as they journey to Never-land with Peter Pan, meet up with the Lost Boys and, of course, do battle with the evil Captain Hook in Peter Pan, Jr. at the Sherwood Center for the Arts. March 8. Cytportlandvancouver.org

Journey Theater 
The beloved story of the ugly duckling is set to music at Journey Theater’s production of Honk at the Alpenrose Opera House in Beaverton. Various dates between March 1 and March 10. On the west side of the Columbia, the same company transports us to England in 1910 for the story of the Banks children and their indomitable nanny, Mary Poppins, at the Washburn Performing Arts Center in Washougal. Various dates between March 1 and March 10. Journeytheater.org

Hand2Mouth Theatre Dream
Logic takes the stories of local students and weaves them into an immersive, interactive theater experience. Kindie hero Red Yarn composed the score, but best for older elementary school-aged kids and up. February 23-March 12. Hand2mouththeatre.org

Alexis Rehrmann is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Portland Monthly magazine. She studied theater at NYU. where she majored in directing and being a theater nerd. She is thrilled to pass this love along to her own kiddo and now, to yours.

Alexis Rehrmann
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