Tag Archives: Greasepaint Youtheatre

Sondheim — student style

I’d never really considered the difficulty of singing Sondheim until I watched the second act of ASA’s current production of “Into the Woods.” I’d spent the first part of the evening enjoying a Rising Youth Theatre dress rehearsal, so all the fairytale folly of “Into the Woods” was well underway by the time I got there.

My own stellar singing career consisted of back-up vocals in bars with a bent for country western tunes while working to put myself through grad school. I thought everybody read Kant and Sartre steeped in bowls of stale peanuts, but nowadays I suppose we should be grateful to find folks reading just about anything.

Original Broadway cast recording of "Into the Woods"

If you’re fond of reading fairy tales, you might enjoy the twist on all things “happily ever after” that’s at the heart of “Into the Woods” — a musical featuring book by James Lapine plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a writer whose work I’m still exploring in the hot pink “Look, I Made a Hat.”

“Into the Woods” opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1986, where George Takei of “Star Trek” fame opens his new musical “Allegiance” later this year. It moved to Broadway in 1987 with Bernadette Peters in the role of “Witch” and Johanna Gleason in the role of “Baker’s Wife” (the role Amy Adams will rock during this year’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Into the Woods” from Public Theater in NYC).

The Arizona School for the Arts production, directed by Beck (she uses just a single name), was hysterical. Think funny, not frantic. The student cast in the role of Witch did an especially fine job singing Sondheim’s material. I’m hoping they’ll send a program my way so I can share the student’s name and give her proper credit for a truly solid performance.

I was less wowed by the set, built out (perhaps to house student musicians — who also did a stellar job) rather than recessed. I’d have preferred more of a deep, dark forest vibe, but that’s probably just my love affair with trees talking. And I’m about as qualified to design sets as I am to sing in front of even the most intoxicated patrons.

2006 Broadway cast recording of "Sweeney Todd"

Over in Glendale, Spotlight Youth Theatre is performing “Sweeney Todd: School Edition” featuring book by Hugh Wheeler plus music and lyrics by Sondheim. Music Theatre International notes that “Sweeney Todd” was adapted for youth performance by “working directly with Mr Sondheim to retain the dark wit and grand scope of the original work, with a few lyric and key changes to facilitate high school productions.”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is based on Christopher Bond’s take on “The String of Pearls,” believed by some to be rooted at least partially in historical events. It opened on Broadway in 1979 with a cast that included Len Carious (Sweeney Todd) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Lovett).

Some consider “Sweeney Todd” a tale of ruin and revenge — but I’ve always been more partial to its tender, rather than tenderized, side. A family torn apart. A young man pining for a girl who’s out of reach. A motherless boy seeking to protect a childless woman from harm.

Nowadays, a click of the mouse will get you Johnny Depp when you’d really rather find Sondheim. Fond as I am of Depp’s portrayal of Todd in the 2007 film, I’d be sad to see a generation familiar only with Sweeney on the big screen. Best to enjoy “Sweeney Todd” on stage but get your tickets as well for “Dark Shadows,” where we’ll all be treated to a bit of dracula meets disco as only Depp can deliver it.

Before the musical, there was this book

A final word before you head out to support all those students charged with singing Sondheim — best to leave kids younger than middle school age at home for these shows. “Into the Woods” is best appreciated by adults, though teens also love the fractured fairy tale vibe. And “Sweeney Todd” has mature themes, including murder, that your little one don’t need swimming around in their heads.

I took Lizabeth to see the Arizona Opera production of “Sweeney Todd” when she was barely in the double digits. To this day, she’s fed up any talk about the worst pies in London.

— Lynn

Note: Folks who follow theater can click here for a list of recent Drama Desk nominations, and here for news of this year’s Tony Awards ceremony (nominations will be announced May 1).

Coming up: How groovy is that?

Update: “Sweeney Todd School Edition” is also part of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s 2012-2013 season — which also includes “13,” “Disney’s the Little Mermaid Jr.,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Dear Edwina.”  Click here for details. 5/1/12

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“Mad Men” in Scottsdale?

Cast members of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" -- which is being performed through May 12 at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale

Feeling snazzy? Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale might have a “snazziest dresser” award with your name on it. Seems they’re doing a special “Mad Men” promo this Fri, April 27, complete with after-party where they’ll be recognizing the person whose ’60s business attire best rocks the “Mad Men” vibe of AMC’s hit TV series. No martinis or cigarettes required.

Jimmy Shoffman as J. Pierrepont Finch and Mallory Briancesco as Rosemary in DST's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"

Just head to the box office in your best “Mad Men” garb come Friday night and get a ticket to that evening’s performance of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” — for just $15. Then stay for the post-show party to strut your ’60s stuff. I sometimes wish I’d been a young advertising exec in NYC, so any chance to play ad agency dress up is a good thing.

Desert Stages Theatre is performing “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” through May 12, which is happy news for those of us who can’t get to NYC to see the show on Broadway — where my daughter Lizabeth has already seen both Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss rock the role of J. Pierrepont Finch.

Jimmy Shoffman portrays Finch, a man whose rise from mailroom to executive status wreaks havoc on his moral compass and office love interest, in the Desert Stages Theatre production. His current counterpart on Broadway is Nick Jonas — so I suspect it’s just a matter of time before Lizabeth spends a third evening enjoying the show.

Cast of "Altar Boyz" at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale

On another stage, Desert Stages Theatre is presenting “Altar Boyz” — a musical that imagines the final concert of five youth from Ohio hoping their Christian boy band can make it big in NYC.

Shows in the works for DST include “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Rent.” Also two versions of “The Odd Couple” — one with a male cast, with a female cast — which’ll be performed on alternating weekends.

In the meantime, they’ll hold their annual gala on Sat, May 5. The “Fiesta Fling” — taking place at the Scottsdale Hilton — features dinner, drinks, entertainment and a silent auction perfectly timed for folks eager to find Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts. When you’ve got to shop, it’s nice to support a local arts organization in the process.

— Lynn

Note: Desert Stages Theatre offers theater classes and summer camps for youth — click here to learn more.

Coming up: Once upon a playwright, Images in motion

Update: Fans of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” can also see the musical during a 2012-2013 Greasepaint Youtheatre season that also includes “13,” “Sweeney Todd School Edition,” “Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr.” and “Dear Edwina.” Click here for details. 5/1/12

Reds versus blues

Rebecca Duckworth, Drew Ignatowksi, Cody Dull and Laurie Trygg in Peacemaker with Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company

For grown-ups the “red vs. blue” thing conjures images of partisan politics. Or assumptions about huge swaths of Americans living in various states. California is blue. Texas is red. Purple is becoming harder and harder to come by.

But not so for the colorful clown-like folk who populate the land of Reds and Blues in a play called “Peacemaker” that’s being performed through Feb. 26 by Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company. It’s directed by Robert Kolby Harper, who knows a thing or two about juggling.

Seems there’s a land where reds and blues once lived peacefully together — albeit one to the north and another to the south. The bridge connecting them held room for just a single person to cross at one time, which wasn’t a problem until a pair who met in the middle each refused to yield.

This portion of “Peacemaker” is told by a lone character who’s lamenting her lack of juggling skills, and acted out by puppets — helping to make this work, best for preschool-K audiences, a perfect transition from puppet theater to works featuring on-stage actors.

After a battle of relatively tame proportions, the two sides decide the only way to stop the fighting is to assure the Reds and Blues never see each other. They build a wall, hire guards and hope for the best.

Until red juggling balls get thrown over the wall to the blue side, and children from warring factions begin a playful exchange that leads them to tear down a portion of the wall.

Cookie Company presents Peacemaker, a tale of children tearing down walls, through Feb. 26

A little Red girl wants to improve her juggling, while a little Blue boy wants to learn how to dance. Turns out each needs the other to get what they want. No cooperation and they all leave empty handed.

I’d have been tempted to write a bit more political parody into this piece, but it’s best I think that it’s a straight telling of a children’s story — meant to promote acceptance, empathy and friendship rather than satisfy the sarcastic tendencies of parents turned pundits.

“Peacemaker” is a very simple, straight-forward bit of storytelling that leaves the ending open so children can imagine how the world might be different once the Reds and Blues learn that neither has plans to actually eat the other.

Costumes for the Peacemaker are wonderfully whimsical, as are various sound elements that range from beatbox-style music to shoes that squish loudly as the Red guard storms across the stage befuddled that folks aren’t following the rules.

“Peacemaker” comes in under 45 minutes, so folks who go have plenty of time for exploring nearby attractions. Cookie Company performs at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale, which is near the Scottsdale Waterfront, Old Town Scottsdale, the Civic Center Public Library and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Children who attend get a free cookie with milk. Your kids might leave the show feeling inspired to bake cookies with red and blue candies, create their own puppets with fabric and craft sticks, or give juggling a try. The best theater lives on long after the show comes to a close.

— Lynn

Note: Mark your calendars for the final production of Cookie Company’s 2011-2012 season — they’ll perform “Charlotte’s Web” April 14-29 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale. “Gypsy”opens at Phoenix Theatre, near downtown Phoenix, on March 7.

Coming up: A betrayal tale

Revolution in Scottsdale?

Bjorn Eriksson as Enjolras in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

I saw the “Les Mis” story anew last week during opening night for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s production of “Les Miserables School Edition.” It was my first time experiencing a stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel since the advent of “Occupy Wall Street” — a movement that’s translating the lingo of “haves” and “have nots” into numerical terms.

I felt like part of the 1% Friday night — not because the house was packed with people of great means. But because I had a ticket. This is the first Greasepaint Youtheatre show to completely sell out its run before opening night, according to producing artistic director Maureen Dias Watson. So 99% of the people hoping to see the show won’t have the opportunity. It’s a shame, because “Les Mis” at Greasepaint is big, bold and beautiful.

Much of the production’s grandeur comes from music elegantly and energetically performed by a 12-piece orchestra, and ensemble vocals approached the quality I’ve enjoyed during several touring productions of “Les Mis.” Musical direction for this production is the work of Reynaldo Saenz.

Rebecca Woodbury, who studies vocal performance at ASU in Tempe, makes her Greasepaint Youtheatre debut as Cosette in this production. It’s easy to imagine Woodbury singing this and other roles on a much larger scale, so I hope her sights are set on auditioning soon for national touring productions of various musical theater works.

Tanner Van Parys as Javert in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

Greasepaint Youtheatre assembled a first-rate creative team for this production, which is directed by Sara Bernstein and features choreography by Molly Lajoie. “Les Miserables” is only as believable as its barricade, and set designer David Weiss nails it. Brick walls and various vignettes for other scenes round out his work — which gives an authentic feel to each setting, from tavern to courtyard.

Still, I found myself wishing for a somewhat grittier vibe. Both sets and costumes could have used an extra layer of grime, since it’s hard to imagine prisoners working with pristine feet and peasants sporting nearly spotless clothing. Nonetheless, costume design by Jean Aiken, which features great attention to detail, is lovely. Every element of the show transports viewers to mid-19th century France.

Lighting design by Dori Brown and sound design by Pete Bish are best appreciated during the barricade scene and sewer scene that follows. Both battle and sewer sounds feel eerily real. Sound equipment for the production was provided by Nearly Naked Theatre of Phoenix.

Other community organizations assisted with the production as well. Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place provided researsal space. Southwest Shakespeare Company of Mesa and Tesseract School of Phoenix helped with costuming, and Great Scott Productions provided props. The loveliest of the latter was a pair of silver candlesticks that shone for a time on a lone table sitting center stage.

Boston Scott as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

Boston Scott exhibits a rare blend of acting and vocal performance skills. Despite struggling with a few of the high notes, Scott brings real depth to Jean Valjean. A great Gavroche is a must and Casey Likes, another newcomer to Greasepaint, delivers smile and spunk with playful precision.

Other cast members include Jessica Arnold (Fantine), Cheyanne Ballou (Little Cosette), Ryan Beamon (Thenardier), Bjorn Eriksson (Enjolras), Luke Powell (Marius), Tasha Spear (Eponine), Tanner Van Parys (Javert), Johnna Watson (Young Eponine). The stellar cast of 39 makes it easy to forget at times that you’re watching young non-professional performers.

The power of “Les Miserables” stems from Hugo’s insight translated into strong storytelling. Program notes evidence Dias Watson’s grasp of Hugo’s inspiration and intent, and the show reflects direction well-grounded in the plight of poor living in despair amidst the decadence of the rich.

Tasha Spear, Boston Scott, Jessica Arnold, Luke Powell and Rebecca Woodbury in Les Miserables School Edition at Greasepaint Youtheatre

“The best theatre impacts both individuals and societies,” writes Dias Watson, “enabling them to see those who may have been invisible to them before.” The Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “Les Miserables School Edition” makes clear that the 99% have always been with us, and that revolution never ends.

— Lynn

Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre has added an additional performance Sun, Jan. 29 at 7pm. Click here for details.

Coming up: More French revolution tales

Photos: Barry Smith

Winter camps & workshops

Proof (from Greasepaint's Aladdin, Jr.) that the coolest kids do musical theater

Greasepaint Youtheatre of Scottsdale, home to ten young actors performing with Theater League’s “The Wizard of Oz” at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix through Sunday, recently announced the following winter workshops for youth:
 
Musical Theatre Dance
Featuring music from “The Muppets!”
For ages 6-12
Tues, Dec. 27 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Ariana Ziskin, who choreographed “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” for Greasepaint Youtheatre earlier this season. Participants will peform at 3pm for family and friends.
 
All Things Shakespeare
Featuring an adaptation of a well-known Shakespeare work
For ages 10 & up
Wed, Dec. 28 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Dawn Rochelle Tucker, education director for Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa. Participants will perform at 3pm for family and friends.
 
“A Chorus Line” Dance
Featuring the Broadway choreography from the musical “A Chorus Line”
For ages 12-18
Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Anthony Toudjarov, who recently performed in “A Chorus Line” with Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria. Participants will perform at 3pm for family and friends.
 
Each Greasepaint Youtheatre workshop noted above costs $40. Call 602-889-7609 to learn more or click here to register.  
 

AJTC Curtain Call production of "Fiddler on the Roof, Jr." (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

Curtain Call Youtheatre with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, which presents “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” through Sunday at Phoenix College, recently announced several winter workshops being held at Temple Chai in Phoenix:
 
Squeak and Meow
Featuring fairy tales about cats and mice put into musical theater form
For ages 4-7
Wed, Dec. 21 and Thurs, Dec. 22 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Elizabeth Peterson, performer with The Blue Bike Kids Show. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 22 for family and friends.
 
A Bit of Glee
Featuring acting, singing and movement techniques
For ages 8 & up
Wed, Dec. 21 and Thurs, Dec. 22 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Ariana Ziskin, who directs the Bravo troupe at East Valley Children’s Theatre. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 22 for family and friends.
 
The Great Flying Ship of Ivan the Impossible
Featuring song, dance and story based on a fairy tale about Ivan and his friends
For ages 4-7
Wed, Dec. 28 and Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Elizabeth Peterson, performer with The Blue Bike Kids Show. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 29 for family and friends.
 
Mythology Comes to Life
Featuring ways to build characters for the stage through voice and movement
For ages 8 & up
Wed, Dec. 28 and Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Colin Ross, member of the 2011-12 acting company for Childsplay
 
Each Curtain Call Youtheatre workshop noted above costs $120 ($200 for one child taking two workshops). Click here to learn more.
 

Actors appearing in Annie, Jr. at Desert Stages Theatre

Desert Stages Theatre, which has a children’s theater performing “Annie, Jr.” through Dec. 18, recently announced three winter workshops taking place at their Scottsdale theater:
 
Music Theory Class – Musical Tools for Industry Success
Featuring a crash course in reading music and music theory
For ages 12 & up
Dec. 19-23 from 2-4pm
Taught by Mark 4man, DST mainstage music director.
 
A Little Bit of Broadway and Pop
Featuring song and dance to music participants help select
For ages 4-10
Dec. 26-30 from 10am-2pm
Taught by Desiree Vaughan, who performed in DST’s “Bye Bye Birdie” earlier this year. Participants will present a performance for family and friends.
 
Princess Parade
Featuring song, dance, arts & crafts and the opportunity to transform into your favorite prince or princess
For ages 3-12
Dec. 19-23 from 10am-2pm
Taught by DST instructors.
 
Prices for each Desert Stages Theatre camp noted above vary (from $100-$250). Click here for details.
 
— Lynn
 
Note: If your theater company or performing arts venue is offering winter break classes for children or teens, please comment below to let our readers know. Please note that workshops noted above may have minimum/maximum enrollment figures.
 
Coming up: Youth theater meets improv

There’s no place like home

Fun souvenirs from "The Wizard of Oz" spotted during intermission at Mesa Arts Center

There’s no place like home — but sometimes we need to be reminded. Hence the timeless appeal of stories like L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” which is being brought to life on Valley stages this week thanks to Oz Theatre Company.

The show, originally adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company by John Kane, features music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Yarburg. “The Wizard of Oz” is the first of four shows playing in Mesa and Phoenix as part of the 2011/12 Theater League season.

I attended a Dec. 7 matinee at the Mesa Arts Center, where several families — many spanning three generations — also enjoyed the show. A pair of elementary age boys told me the show was really funny, and several girls noted that “Dorothy did a really good job.” For some, it was the black terrier “Toto” who stole the show.

This family from Scottsdale (including a camera shy grandfather) told me they loved the show

Kerri McNeill, who recently earned a B.A. in theatre performance from Wagner College, makes her national touring debut as Dorothy Gale, and does a superb job. Her Dorothy is fresh and vibrant, with strong vocals — which explains the long list of “Past and Present of Wagner on Broadway” on the school’s website.

Patrick Pevehouse (Hank/Scarecrow) attended Oklahoma City University, Brian Maxseen (Hickory/Tinman) holds “a B.A. in make-believe from NYU/Tisch” and Brent Walker (Zeke/Lion) graduated with a BFA in musical theatre from the University of Central Florida. I notice these things more now that my own daughter is pursuing a BFA in acting at Pace University in NYC.

The trio’s collective performance is enchanting, bringing real warmth and humor to the stage. Audience members of all ages rewarded them often with laughter and applause, and also seemed especially smitten with Laurie Pascal in the roles of Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West.

Kelly Karcher (Auntie Em/Glinda), Bryan Miner (Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard), and Bob Pritchard (Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz) round out the very capable cast. The ensemble, which often breaks into old-school song and dance ala television variety shows of bygone days, adds real charm throughout.

Greasepaint Youtheatre actors ages 8 to 12 perform the role of Munchkin

Our own local actors, ten “Munchkins” from Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale, spend more time on stage than I’d expected — and fit right in with the rest of the cast. They’re perky, polished and professional, and I fully expect to be reviewing many of them in future touring productions. Enjoy them on Valley stages while you still can.

This production of “The Wizard of Oz” is a beautiful blend of storytelling and stagecraft for the young and young at heart. Never mind that cables are faintly visible as witches float through the air. It’s plenty magical for young audiences, as are projections that bring tornado debris, poppies and snow to life. The show features projections created by Second Home Productions, Aerographics by Flying by Foy and Special Effects by I & M Special Effects.

But I took more delight in the show’s colorful, creative costumes — plus imaginative wigs and hair props. The original set and costumes were designed by Tim McQuillen-Wright, and Bernie Ardia served as the original wig designer. Costume coordination and additional costume designs are the work of Jimm Halliday.

Head props, including tree branches that seem to grow like gravity-defiant pigtails dotted with shiny red apples, are the work of Liz Spray. Head wardrobe — no small feat in a show full of wonderfully whimsical hats, is by Jennifer Mohrman. Wigs are by Anthony Lauro. All enhance the show’s kid-friendly feel.

This Chandler family had lots of praise for the Wednesday matinee performance

After three performances at Mesa Arts Center, “The Wizard of Oz” now moves to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix for a Dec. 8-11 run. It’s another intimate venue perfect for introducing young audiences to musical theater. Take your children now, before they’re grown and moved away. Memories created at the theater together remind us for a lifetime that there’s no place like home.

— Lynn

Note: Future shows in the 2011/12 Theater League season for Mesa and Phoenix include “My Fair Lady,” “The Rat Pack is Back!” and “Rock of Ages.” Learn more at www.theaterleague.com. Folks with a special interest in projections in theater design will enjoy David Barbour’s “The Prevalence of Projections” in the Dec. 2011 issue of American Theatre magazine.

Coming up: Strolling meets sculpture, Quilting for a cause

Theater flair minus holiday fare

It’s easy to find holiday-theme fare this time of year, but plenty of folks are searching for other options. If you enjoy live performance but want a break from all the shiny tinsel and twinkling lights, consider some of these theater offerings:

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts presents the musical “Chess” through Sat, Dec. 3. It’s rarely performed in the Valley, so this is a rare opportunity to enjoy a local production. The final show is at 7:30pm tonight. www.cgc.edu/arts.

Theater League presents “Wizard of Oz,” a touring production touting lots of special effects, Dec. 6 & 7 at the Mesa Arts Center and Dec. 8-11 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Ten Valley students from Greasepaint Youtheatre are performing as Munchkins. www.theaterleague.com.

Queen Creek Performing Arts Center presents “Glee” for a single performance on Fri, Dec. 9. It’s the tale of a high school teacher who tries to reinvent his school’s glee club. www.qcpac.com.

Cast members from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents the Curtain Call Youth Theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” (a shortened version of the classic musical) Dec. 10 & 11 at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College. www.azjewishtheatre.org.

Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale presents a Children’s Theatre production of “Annie, Jr.” through Dec. 18. Though set in NYC during the Christmas season, it’s a tale with broad appeal beyond the holiday season. www.desertstages.org.

Childsplay presents “Lyle the Crocodile” through Sat, Dec. 24 at Tempe Center for the Arts. True, you’ll encounter some holiday fanfare as Lyle visits the Primm family during Christmas in NYC, but most kids know Lyle from books that find Lyle in bathtubs and other everyday places. www.childsplayaz.org.

ASU Gammage presents “Stomp,” an energetic blend of creative percussion and contemporary dance, Dec. 28-31 in Tempe. It’s a great choice for families with young boys who balk at traditional musical theater fare. www.asugammage.com.

For a comprehensive list of “On Stage” offerings for families, check out Raising Arizona Kids in print or online.

— Lynn

Note: If you have a family-friendly event to share with our readers, please visit the calendar section of the Raising Arizona Kids website to learn how you can submit calendar items for print and online listings.

Coming up: Lemonade for grown-ups