One of Rapid City’s attractions, for both residents and tourists, is Storybook Island. Which isn’t an island, really, but a park/playground for children. They can play in, on, and around structures like Peter’s Pumpkin, the Crooked Little Man’s house, Winnie the Pooh’s house, and Cinderella’s coach. They can pretend to drive a real locomotive and a real fire truck. They can ride on a real miniature train.
And they can go to the theatre. Live theatre, where they are encouraged to participate on cue, cheering on the heroes and reprimanding the villains—who by the end of the show usually turn out to be not so very bad, really. This is theatre for three- and four-year-olds, after all, who ought not to be scared right out of their little plastic sandals. And who, preferably, ought to learn at a little something about counting or working together or the value of saying “please.”
To illustrate: in this year’s version of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Jack doesn’t steal the gold and the golden egg-laying hen and the magic harp. No, the giant’s wife gives him those things, because she’s tired of all those surplus golden eggs cluttering up the place. Besides, she wants her husband to retire from gianting.
Age-appropriate revisions and all, the shows are great fun. The plays are enjoyable enough, certainly. But the real entertainment comes from watching the little kids watch the plays.
Today, for example, during “Sleeping Beauty,” the kids in the audience were asked to remind the prince that he dared not eat or drink anything on his way to the enchanted castle. The fairy godmother told the children, “Say ‘don’t drink it’ three times.”
Following her lead, they shouted, “Don’t drink it! Don’t drink it! Don’t drink it!”
Except for one literal-minded little guy behind me, who dutifully shouted, “Don’t drink it three times!”
Then there was the little boy sitting in front of me, who accepted the actors’ invitation to come up on stage and dance at the end of the play. He came back to his preschool group and asked, “Was I great?” Another little boy told him in awe, “I saw you. You were right next to the King!”
When you’re three, the King up on stage in his crown and his velvet cape isn’t an eighteen-year-old kid whose crown is way too big and whose tennis shoes show underneath his cape. No, he’s The King. When you’re three, children’s theatre is still magic.
For those of us who are much older than three, it’s magic, too. True, we notice that the King wears tennis shoes and the fairy’s wig keeps slipping and this week’s Sleeping Beauty looks suspiciously like last week’s Jack in the Beanstalk. But we notice the magic, as well. For us, the magic comes from watching all those delighted little kids who still believe in make-believe.