Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By NANCYE TUTTLE
LOWELL Giggles galore, memory-making moments, "the best Sunday afternoons" of their kids' lives.
That about sums up how parents and their tykes feel each time they venture to Durgin Hall, the 980-seat venue on UMass Lowell's South Campus, to enjoy a show at the popular Family Discovery Series.
As the series starts its 17th season this fall, series director Christine Brown has titled this year's six show line-up Fantasy, Frivolity and Fun!
It opens with the return of the popular Shangri-La Acrobats on Oct. 5 and continues with The Star Keeper, dubbed the Cirque du Soleil of puppet shows on Nov. 2. The Gizmo Guys, a world-class comic juggling duo, play on December 7.
On March 7 Tomas Kubinek: Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible offers comedy and magic. On April 7, Scrap Art Music, an assemblage of five hyper-kinetic musicians performing original music and cutting-edge percussion, arrives. The series ends May 4 with Charlotte's Web, a play based on the children's tale by E.B. White.
A savvy programmer, Brown knows her audience well. And she had good reason for booking merriment and lunacy into this year's plans.
"Over the years, I've watched which shows sell," she says. "In troubled times, people look forward to getting out and having fun. These hilarious shows are designed for total escape. We have not raised our prices or skimped on the quality, and we know people will enjoy themselves."
The value of live performance and family bonding is not lost on audiences either, she notes.
"Parents seek affordable, fun activities they can enjoy with their kids that are an alternative to sitting in front of a computer or TV screen. We stress that there are real, live people on the stage, just wowing the audience with their creativity, imagination and skill."
This, she adds, helps kids learn the difference between live performance and TV, movies or videotapes.
"Going beyond entertainment, I hope that the Discovery Series helps to instill a life-long love of the performing arts."
This year's troupe of internationally-acclaimed showstoppers hail from all over Beijing in China, Montreal and Vancouver in Canada, Czechoslovakia (by way of Toronto), and good old New York City.
The Shangri-La Acrobats are back by popular demand after sold-out performances last year. Geared to all ages, the performance will include acrobatics, balancing feats, martial arts displays, authentic music and more.
The Star Keeper, a Montreal offering, is a puppet show that features traditional string marionettes, bunraku-style and shadow puppets. Manipulated by four puppeteers, they range from 1- to 6 feet tall and tell the story of a star that falls from the sky as evening draws near and is rescued by a worm named Pretzel who joins it on a journey and helps the star return home. Only 500 seats are being sold on the main floor for each show to provide a more intimate experience.
The Gizmo Guys are pleased to be returning, says Alan Jacobs, who formed the juggling partnership with Barrett Felker 17 years ago.
They like the Discovery Series, since it is "a great place to play, with a good mix in the audience. We've played all around the world, but this is clearly one of the best places."
Kubinek hails from Toronto, by way of Czechoslovakia. He was developing his shoe cycle the last time he was here in 1995 and now he is pictured on the season's brochure cover with the contraption.
His work defies descrption, says Brown, noting, "He is an indescribably funny person."
Scrap Art Music, a find from Vancouver, brings Greg Kozlak and other percussionists to town to perform original music and choreography on fantastic musical instruments that Kozlak makes instruments out of metal scraps, recycled materials and other junk.
"We've found a way to make musical instruments out of anything, and have 50 to 60 creations now. We let kids know that anyone can do this," he says.
The series concludes with Charlotte's Web, a production from Theatreworks USA, one of the best organizations in the country for kids' shows, says Brown.
"They don't talk down to kids," she says.
The play brings to life E.B. White's loving story of the friendship between the pig named Wilbur and a little gray spider named Charlotte who saves him from becoming pork chops by weaving something special in her web. This show is best for ages 4 and up.
The popular birthday celebration option returns this season. Patrons are invited to celebrate a family birthday by buying a block of tickets 10 or more and making a performance the main "party event."
The birthday child's name will be printed in the program, as long as the box office is informed two weeks prior to the performance to guarantee inclusion. On the big day itself, Brown announces the child's name from the stage.
The Discovery Series offers flexibility to create a series based on kids' ages and interests. Savings are offered to those who choose four or more shows of the six offered. Single tickets are $10. Groups of 10 or more, ordering in advance, receive a special rate of $8 per ticket.
All shows are at 2 and 4 p.m. with the exception of Charlotte's Web, which will be at 2 p.m. only. Shows run approximately one hour without intermission.
No souvenirs are sold and parking is free.
Subscriptions are currently on sale. Call the box office at 978-934-4444 between 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday to order tickets or request a brochure.