I rarely take my 3-year-old son to a live performance. I can’t help but wonder how he might react or how difficult it might be to get him to be a well-behaved audience member. I decided to take a chance and bring him and his 5-year-old brother to see Wake Up, Brother Bear! at Imagination Stage in Bethesda.
The performance is part of Imagination Stage’s Early Childhood program which provides classes and live performances for children aged 1 to 5. Well, my 3-year-old was mesmerized! Both boys stayed engaged the entire time, and I found the entire experience entertaining and enjoyable.
During Wake Up, Brother Bear!, the audience joins Brother Bear and Sister Bear on an interactive journey through the four seasons. The children receive a small bag of props to use during the play. The play begins in spring with both bears waking up from hibernation. Children are invited to help remove the blankets covering Brother Bear, who would prefer to continue hibernating.
Over the course of the play, they meet a butterfly, see a waterfall melt, chase an elusive fish, experience a starry summer night with fireflies, watch a shadow-puppet show, and skate on an icy pond. The play ends with the bears returning to hibernation, and the children cover Brother Bear with small blankets.
There are many touching, funny and enjoyable moments throughout the production. Our favorite was when both parents and children were asked to grab hold of a large blue round fabric and move it so that the autumn leaves the children placed on it would bounce. Then, the fish that eludes Brother bear throughout the performance appears on the fabric, and the children continue bouncing the fabric as Brother bear attempts to catch it.
While often times you find experiences geared towards young children to be overstimulating, Wake Up, Brother Bear! was not. It was soothing and just the right amount of interaction to capture the attention of the young audience. A live cellist played the entire time. The two performers portraying the bear siblings were loveable, funny and engaging. They wore furry overalls that resemble a bear and a headpiece with bear ears.
The lights are on during most of the show and change to relay the settings and time of day. In the beginning, the lights are briefly dim as the bears wake from hibernation. The lights are darkened for a longer period of time, approximately 5 or so minutes, during the summer night season when the children use mini flashlights to create fireflies, lay down in the center stage while stars magically appear on the ceiling, and watch the bears use shadow puppets to tell the story about the life cycle of the butterfly.
During this time, there were a few very young children that were uncomfortable with the darkness. It would not hurt to prepare your child if they are nervous about being in a dark room.
Seating is first come, first serve. The stage is a large round cloth set on the floor that resembles a tree stump and has circles along the edge for each child to sit on. Parents sit directly behind the children on the floor. If you are lucky enough you will find one of the very few chairs or theater seats behind your child, but count on sitting on the floor for this 40 minute performance with no intermission. The stage is also set with four tree stumps with faces on them that are located around the circle. They serve as way to divide and direct the children when they are asked to bring props to the center of the room.
Theater patrons wait in a long narrow corridor until the doors open about 5 minutes before show time. The coat rack was insufficient for the number of attendees. However, you can easily stash your coat on an empty theater seat. There is space outside the theater to leave a stroller. Across from the coat rack is a very popular motion-triggered bubble wall.
Both my 3 and 5-year-old stayed engaged the entire time. We attended the 10:30am show and found children across the entire suggested age range of 1 to 5. I don’t know if it was the hour or the calming cellist, but the children at our performance were extremely well-behaved. If needed, parents were encouraged to get up and retrieve their child from the center of the stage.
We had a wonderful time and hope to return to Imagination Stage for another Early Childhood performance. Coming soon is From Here to There, March 6 to April 14, 2013. England’s Tell Tale Hearts Company travels to Imagination Stage to present the North American premiere of From Here to There, a show about magic bridges. Performances are followed by a ‘free play’ session giving the children an opportunity to explore some of the materials and build their own bridges. I think I’ll have to put this one on our calendar!
- Performances run through February 3, 2013 and are Tuesday to Sunday at 11:45am with an additional performance at 10:30am on the weekend.
- Tickets are available online or at the box office. They are $10 weekdays and for the 11:45am performance on weekends. The 10:30am weekend performance is $12/ticket. Lap tickets are are available for $5 and should be purchased for children 12 months and younger who do not take a seat.
- Seating for this event is first come, first served.
- Imagination Stage is next to a public parking garage with free parking on weekend and metered parking during the week (meters on higher floors are cheaper than those on the lower floors and allow for longer stays). The red line Bethesda Metro station is a half-mile walk from the theater.
- Food and pictures are not allowed in the theater.
- The cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 5:30pm and Sunday 12:30pm to 5:30pm. Hours are subject to change based on show times & class sessions. A gift shop by the main doors is open before, during, and after show times. Among many cool items, you can purchase a copy of Wake Up, Brother Bear! book.
- Imagination Stage offers a variety of classes and single session workshops for children aged 1 to 5, throughout the week and weekend. In addition, they offer performances, camps, and classes including dance, theater and film making geared for children 5 and older. More information can be found on their website.
Photo: Jacob Yeh as Brother Bear, Megan Dominy as Sister Bear, and Katie Chambers (cello). Photo Credit: Blake Echols/Imagination Stage