Noe Valley Voice November 1998

Kids Picks: Have Your Kids Hit the Growing Stage Yet?

By Dodie Hamblen

Quality entertainment and after-school activities that stimulate kids' creativity without straining the family wallet are hard to come by. That's why parents cheer when they hear about the Growing Stage, an innovative children's theater program for kids ages 3 to 12.

Located at 1062 Valencia St., near the corner of 22nd Street, the three-year-old Growing Stage is part of the Marsh Theater, a local showcase for new and experimental performance pieces.

For $40 to $60 (all fees are on a sliding scale), kids can take a six- to eight-week series of classes in drama, creative movement, or art. Talented performers and artists teach the classes, which are limited to 12 students.

Art classes include theater-related crafts, such as puppet and mask making. The movement classes concentrate on dance and improvisation. And of course, the drama classes teach kids how to act.

"These classes are a great way to build self-esteem," says Gina Scher, who directs the program. "We also have monthly matinee performances. Kids love the excitement and fun of live theater."

Scher, a Yale graduate with 10 years of experience in children's theater, leads the drama classes herself. During the course of the "rehearsals," the kids learn how to produce a play from start to finish. Each week they hone their skills -- doing improvisations, rehearsing lines, blocking scenes, and playing theater games.

"Theater really helps kids learn communication skills," says Scher. "And it's a fun way to learn cooperation."

Scher says the kindergartners and first-graders usually start out with singing and dance, whereas the older children concentrate more on using their voices and bodies to communicate action and character to an audience.

At the end of the two-month sessions, the students put on a short play or scene for family and friends. Past performances have included The Emperor's New Clothes, James and the Giant Peach, the Paddington Bear stories, and other fables and fairy tales.

Peter Vericat, a third-grader at Lake-shore Elementary School, has taken Scher's classes for two years -- recruiting four or five of his schoolmates along the way. His mom, Sally Geisse, raves about the program. "Gina is fantastic. She makes it fun, and they really learn something. It's not easy to find theater classes for kids. Peter really likes it, and I'm pleased that he's found an outlet."

The Growing Stage also offers monthly matinees that feature local theater troupes performing plays, musicals, and puppet shows. Last month, DolphinTales Story Theater brought a Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax, to life on the stage. The month before, the Growing Stage hosted its annual Fall Arts Festival with storytelling, music, art, dance, and games.

Two more matinees are coming up this year. On Sunday, Nov. 8, at 1:30 p.m., a performing duo called Real*Magic will present "The Mystery Show." A Growing Stage favorite, Real*Magic promises to tap the kids' imaginations with original songs and stories.

On two weekends in December -- Dec. 5 ­ 6 and 12 ­ 13 -- theater lovers can enjoy a winter holiday program, starting at 1:30 p.m. each day. The program features short plays, music, and poetry celebrating Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. Admission to all matinees is $5 to $8.

The next class session at the Growing Stage will run from Nov. 10 to Dec. 15. Art classes -- taught by Norita Gonzalez, director of Mascaritas Puppet Theatre -- will meet on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. (for ages 6 to 11) and from 5 to 6 p.m. (for kids 3 to 6). Students will create masks and puppets, using a variety of materials.

Scher's drama classes, also held on Tuesdays, will meet from 4 to 5 p.m. (for kindergartners and first-graders) and from 5 to 6 p.m. (for second- through fifth-graders).

To get the jump on the Growing Stage, call 826-5750, ext. 2.