Guess what I did on Saturday morning? Nope, I wasn't shoveling snow, watching my little one watch TV, or straightening up my disaster of a hall closet. I was at iO's Story Town. And, alongside lots of other Chicago parents and kids, I was laughing. Hard. How had I not heard of this place before?
I'll admit it - I'm not so into a lot of the kids' activities I've experienced over the last five years. Yes, I support all of those events and places my daughter finds fun, but mentally I'm sitting at Starbucks or a Starbucks-like café, reading the paper and sipping on a decaf, nonfat latte. Maybe I'm not supposed to admit this, but chasing her around a park or feigning excitement over pretend grocery shopping does not exactly make for my perfect Saturday morning, as much as I know it's incredibly important for her physical and psychological development and socialization skills. That's why I'm so psyched about Story Town.
This improvisational show, put on by a group of talented actors no older than about 32, is entertaining, creative, silly, witty, and laugh-out-loud funny - for kids and adults. It starts off with most of the kids sitting on stage, drawing pictures. I have no idea what happens with those pictures, but it's a nice way to break the ice. After drawing for a bit, the kids get kicked off stage, but in a polite way, and about 12 performers hit the stage.
An emcee helps the crowd pick the topic of the show, and then the kids go back up on stage to draw on large pieces of paper to create a background for the upcoming performance. Following this, the actors take over, making up songs, dances, jokes, and entire stories around the audience's chosen theme. It's pure magical mayhem.
My first impression (as well as my second and even my third) was, boy, are they funny. I mean really funny. To my surprise, all of the pieces fit together and the overall experience was truly entertaining. Sure, a few of the jokes were met with awkward silence, as is always the case at improv shows. But for the most part, both kids and adults were holding their tummies in laughter. Even days later, I still have one song, "Rock Candy Sand," stuck in my mind.
As for age, I looked around and noticed most of the children at the performance that I attended were at least four years old. My sense is that the sweet spot for this type of experience is around four to eight (depending on the child, because we all know that our children are geniuses). Those a little younger seemed a bit clueless, and those who were older stayed next to their parents most of the time.
Now let me put on my 'tough guy' critic's hat for a sec, lest you think I've misplaced it. This type of show is not for every child. I won't be specific, since she shares my DNA, but one little girl was just not into running up on stage or screaming out answers in a crowd of 30+. And the story itself, with a few unexpected twists and turns, might rattle the more astute and detail-oriented storytellers in the audience. Also, if you're expecting your child to build his academy award-winning acting skills at Story Town, this is not the place; kids were not on stage as much as I thought they'd be.
Those points aside, this event is definitely at the top of my list now for things to do on a Saturday morning. The cast makes it all worthwhile. They're energetic and excited to be performing, and I love watching them cheer each other on. It's like watching college basketball circa 1986: talented players working for the rebounds, following their shots, and savoring each moment. Plus, it's only five bucks a ticket. Now that's enough to make even the grouchiest of parents smile.
To learn more about Story Town, click here!
By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.