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‘The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party’ serves up warm memories by Hillary Bird

December 10, 2018 • In its fourth season, The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party continues its brilliance at The Chicago Children’s Theatre. Three actors, three stories and wooden puppets tell the 100-year-old tales written by Beatrix Potter.

The stories are timeless, and the production is witty, warm and welcoming to youngsters and their adults. The tales run just less than an hour and are aimed at kids ages 2-6. The puppet movement and actors seamlessly advance each story, telling some with a holiday bent to remind kids that it’s still December outside. The music, written by performer Ray Rehberg, is perfect kid fare and adds to the brilliance that young theater-goers can talk to the composer after the show.

The sets were designed for the production and become characters in their own right, with moving parts that make each suitcase an integral part of the story. One part art, one part storyteller, each one is touchable, friendly and inviting to young learners.

The show can quickly become a family tradition, with memories to be made by both youngsters and parents. Here is a guide to making the most of your time at The Station.

It’s OK to arrive early.

The Chicago Children’s Theatre space at The Station also serves as a teaching facility, so it is well-stocked with crayons, markers and puzzles. For those who arrive early, kids will be treated to extra time to color pictures, make shadow puppets, pose for pictures and keep active.

Brush up on your Potter.

It’s OK if you haven’t yet introduced your kids to Beatrix Potter’s characters. The author first published “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” in 1902, with 22 other tales to follow. In the show, the audience will meet three beloved Potter characters: Mrs. Tittlemouse, Squirrel Nutkin and Peter Rabbit. Hearing the stories in advance will help the youngest appreciate the style and characters a little more.

Save time for pinkie posing.

The tea party that follows the performance is a staff and fan favorite, with long tables decked after the show with cookies, hot chocolate and holiday decorations. Knowing that most of their party-goers are likely not used to piping hot drinks, the hot chocolate is poured well enough in advance to make sure it’s cooled before the first eager drinkers reach the tables. The cookies are dunkable and make the perfect tea party delight.

Ask lots of questions.

After the performances, children and parents have a chance to touch and learn about the sets, puppets and actors. Let your kiddos ask questions as they learn how the puppets are raised and lowered through cranks, how the wooden knobs make arms turn and eyebrows lower,  and the magic of the wooden suitcase boxes. The actors are quick to answer questions, all while still in character.

Be ready to answer questions.

The performance is partially interactive, with actors asking the young audience members questions about their animal preferences before the show starts and asking for help during the play. The theater is intimate and cozy, with kid-approved seating on every level, and there’s a little room for the actors to roam the aisle to hand out props during the production.

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