OAKLAND’S FAIRYLAND, THE OASIS FOR CHILD’S CREATIVITY IN EAST BAY
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Ms. Gutman (of C.H.A.R.I.S.M.A. Foundation) honors the master-puppeteer Randal Metz after his virtuosic one-man show of the “Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky, with the t-shirt that proclaims the special message of advocacy for music education, and with the authentic Russian candies, followed by the cheering and long-lasting applause of the appreciative audience at Fairyland, Oakland, CA, USA.
“...Our books teach you to be polite and kind, Our theater will help you speak your mind… Magic is possible in Fairyland, Where music tunes souls to ignite…”
– are the lyrics from the last verse of her brand new children song “Let’s Go To Fairyland” that she also presented to Mr. Metz.(Ms. Gutman is the Russian-born and trained (currently residing in Berkeley, CA, USA), internationally recognized music educator, pianist, composer, member of the Bay Area Puppeteer’s Guild, and passionate advocate for the arts/music education.She led Int’l Symposium on Advocacy for Music Education at 29th World Conference of ISME’2010; more info: http://charismafoundation.org/advocacyintlsymposium.html )
Last Friday, December 23, 2012 was marked by the last of the season’s puppet show at the Fairyland’s Storybook Puppet Theater, in Oakland with the Holiday delight of the “Nutcracker”.This imaginative fairytale is a classic that needs no introduction, but for the most of very young kids in the audience it was likely their very 1st encounter with this masterpiece by Hoffmann, as well as a great introduction to the renowned musical rendition by Tchaikovsky.Puppets can be very entertaining, but much of their hidden power can be revealed through their use as educational tools. Puppetry is the inspiring and memorable way to get familiar with the plot of the famous ballet for the very young kids, reducing their learning curve, before venturing into non-verbal performances of “Nutcracker” in a rather abstract dance form.
Indeed, this very engaging show left no one untouched in the uncommonly large audience that could not fit on the brightly colored tiny seats of the open-air Emerald City Theater. (It was designed by now retired legendary puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann, who had worked at Fairyland since 1967).In fact, the brief survey of the audience revealed that the master-puppeteer Randal Metz has very dedicated following of fans, that include not only the locals, but also those, who don’t mind to travel to his shows for several hours, all the way from Sonoma County! Randal Metz is a real virtuoso of puppetry, who shifts very swiftly between Hand and Rod Puppets, and Marionettes (with over 40 (!) remarkable custom-made puppets). Everything in the show was simply mesmerizing – from interactive marionettes that came off stage, dancing right over kids’ heads to the Chinese Dragon, breathing with the real fire.To those in the audience, who already knew the story, the show offered many surprises – the very unexpected representations of the commonly known characters that were often very humorous and entertaining for all ages.
And last, but not the least, the show’s nuanced response to the details of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score deserves much admiration. Among many other reasons to be the educators’ favorite, the musical classic of “Nutcracker” introduces children to various cultures and presents great inter-curricula links, by showcasing the unique Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Danish, French, German, Italian musical traditions, broadening kids’ musical horizons, while inspiring the interest to explore the world beyond their backyard and helping nurture the feeling of tolerance from the young age.
Although the puppet play was very captivating to watch for both kids and adults, the active and immediate response of the very young audience to every action on stage and around it was admittedly the competing attraction.Not everyone in the audience was familiar with the interesting fact about the Fairyland’s Storybook Puppet Theater being one of the nation’s oldest puppet theaters.Like everything else in Fairyland, the puppet productions encourage little visitors to overcome the challenges of the young reader – even the theater backstage scenery set of shown on the same day “Velveteen Rabbit” is created in the form of the book with swiftly turning pages.
But, the Storybook Puppet Theater is only one of many jewels for the neighborhood kids and visitors from out of town, along with other attractions and various participatory activities that Fairland offers, such as live shows by the local music and magic performers, arts-and-crafts activities, summer camp and family sleep-overs, Children’s Theater (with its auditions for the local kids coming up very soon).The quote from the Fairyland’s History Page modestly reveals: “Not long after we opened, a fellow named Walt Disney visited Children’s Fairyland. He liked it so much that he incorporated some of our innovations into his “magic kingdom,” which opened in Anaheim in 1955. He also hired Fairyland’s first executive director, Dorothy Manes, and one of our part-time puppeteers, Bob Mills.”
The thriving of this oasis for child creativity with its affordable programs for the local children is of the critical importance to the entire community of the Bay Area and beyond, particularly at the time, when the State funding for the arts and music curricula in CA public schools is suffering painful cuts (incl. those that were not announced openly, according to the misleading bill AB 1330 (Furutani, Long Beach), recently approved by Governor Brown for enactment in 2011/12, to the great surprise of all CA arts/music educators and advocates and students’ families, who were used to supporting him in his campaign, with the inauguration party at the Oakland School for the Arts). But all Californians deserve to have the public schools run according to the research-informed educational policy that includes the curricula that promote creativity and other advanced cognitive skills, as the core subjects.Contrary to the above unwise decision by the CA politicians, the positive impact of music and arts education on the growing child’s brain needs to be fully understood and appreciated, and it has been a subject of the brain research studies during past decades.For example, famous neuroscientist Dr. Schlaug points out that according to MRI studies, those who started studying music before the age 8 developed 15% larger corpus callosum, the tissue that connects left- and right-hemispheres of the brain.
All of those kids who have been touched by the magic of the transformative impact of Fairyland’s interactive treasures today, will carry it through their lifetime. It was very touching to learn that the father, who brought a little girl to Fairyland, cherishes his own memories about discovering the park during his own childhood. That is why, our community and business leaders will gain everyone’s admiration for their insightful efforts to assure that in the future, today’s inspired young attendants of Fairyland are able to continue bringing their children to enjoy this neighborhood tradition that should be continuously nurtured and carefully preserved with much deserved status of the Bay Area Historical Landmark.