When I was about 10 years old, we visited family in California and spent an evening at a Shakespeare in the Park performance. Somehow my aunt and uncle understood that there are some experiences in life that both adults and kids can enjoy equally and they usually center around being outdoors and eating food. It topped my list of ‘sophisticated kid’ things to do, along with the boat ride on Lake Michigan with my best friend and her family that involved high speeds and cheese platters. Though I am not sure my parents would have ever chosen to take me and my sister to a Shakespeare performance in our hometown, picnicking on a warm summer evening on vacation was the perfect family outing that sparked my interest in outdoor theatre and music events.
Not surprisingly, Shakespeare in the Park still tops my summer bucket list and I am thrilled that Chicago is now in its fifth year of free summer Shakespeare in the Park performances held throughout the neighborhood parks. Each summer we dutifully pack up our dish to pass, gather our friends and blankets and stake our claim to a spot with a view in the park of our choice. Since my daughter was born during high summer two years ago and still a newborn when production began, she missed her first season of Shakespeare. However, last year we attended as a family together with friends and we couldn’t have had a better inauguration to the annual tradition. Laying on a blanket, snacking on food, and people watching is the perfect itinerary for kids of all ages.
The idea behind Shakespeare in the Park is to provide an often free and accessible performance to everyone. During this time of drastic cuts to arts education in school, teach your kids to embrace the spirit of accessible arts and culture in the same way you teach them to take advantage of the library as a wonderful learning resource. Many large cities offer Shakespeare festivals during the summer. Find a Shakespeare in the Park performance near your home by checking in with your local theaters and newspapers. Sites like Wikipedia and DMOZ maintain directories of festivals in the United States, but may not include the most recent additions.
Once you have your summer outing planned, get your kids socialized to Shakespeare with How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. The littlest members of the family can get in on the act with Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer. Older kids and adults alike will enjoy Romeo & Juliet: A Coloring Classic. Help kids unleash their inner creativity with the MasterPuppet Theatre. This set comes with sixty finger puppet cards featuring Shakespeare’s most famous characters, including Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Shylock, and Falstaff, twelve stand-up sets of castles, forests, balconies, and battlements and a 96-page folio of classic scenes—from Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy to Romeo and Juliet’s classic balcony serenade.
Encourage kids to dress the part with tee shirts emblazoned with Shakespeare quotes or a onesie bearing a likeness of the Bard himself. Those with a flair for the dramatic will enjoy accessories like a wreath of flowers from H&M, a knit crown from Noe & Zoe Berlin, or a woodland leaf mask from A is for Alice. We personally love the blue strawberry flower print dress with detachable “wings” from Stella McCartney Kids for a casual picnic with just a hint of the theatrical.