Kids and Culture can Mix

Is it Toil and Trouble to Get Your Kids to a Cultural Event?

By Pam Dillon

Fear not, dear parent. There are plenty of attractions in Ottawa to entice them. Better yet, A Company of Fools brings the dreaded works of Shakespeare delightfully to life. The outdoor productions are funny, engaging and family-approved.

The NAC Orchestra concert may have been a little much. Our children were barely out of diapers when we had them at the National Arts Centre for a performance led by conductor Pinchas Zukerman.

Two wee blonde tykes with mushroom cuts were lost in a sea of grey hair and unfamiliar sound. Since their tastes ran to sing-along tunes such as Old MacDonald Had A Farm, they weren’t exactly thrilled by this classical adventure.

Oh well. It was memorable and we did emerge from the concert hall unscathed, having circumvented foot-thumping of the seats in front of ours and any (really) loud wailing.
Cultural keeners (or suckers for punishment – you choose), we persisted in the civilization efforts. There were visits to the National Gallery of Canada and virtually every museum in Ottawa, including the Diefenbunker and the Canadian War Museum (both favourites).

Fast-forward a few years, marked by repeated exposure to arts attractions, live performances and museums in many different cities. By this point, the kids were practically enlightened.

But Shakespeare? Forget it.

They liked Shakespeare as much as they liked doing household chores. As much as they liked eating Lima beans. As much as the family dog likes the neighbour’s cat.

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
   Twelfth Night (II, v)

Alas, then came a summer, a park, A Company of Fools and a shock. One of my young Shakespeare haters had a great time – with no toil or trouble involved. On a beautiful July evening on the grass in city green space, the Fools brought Shakespeare to life. The audience was smitten. There were plenty of children in the crowd, too – children laughing and clapping and approving of The Bard. Dog walkers, in-line skaters and cyclists paused to watch the action and even a plane flying overhead was mentioned by one of the quick-thinking, ad-libbing actors. It was thoroughly entertaining. For young people who will most assuredly have to study Shakespeare’s works at some time or other, it was also a revelation:

This stuff can be fun. As Ottawa’s longest running independent professional Shakespeare company, A Company of Fools makes the works of William Shakespeare accessible and enjoyable.

This summer, the Fools’ Torchlight Shakespeare presentation is Henry V.  Described as “part Saving Private Ryan and part Before Sunrise”  the dramatic tale is, in essence, a “boy meets girl story” with a twist – the boy, Henry, is played by a girl named Margo MacDonald  and the girl, Katherine, is played by Simon Bradshaw.

In true Fools style, the results are sure to be crowd-pleasing. The casting choice “echoes what companies in Shakespeare’s day would have done…males played all the female roles,” notes director Geoff McBride.

Performances are family-friendly and begin at 7 p.m. Admission is pass-the-hat-and-pay-what-you-can. A Donation of $15 is suggested. There will be a show in Strathcona Park Monday nights from July 2 to August 18.  For the full schedule and list of locations, check  Bring a blanket or lawn chair and your friends. It’s a great evening.

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