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Opera House launches summer family series

by Napa Valley Register

07-13-2011

The Mondavi Theatre Stage at the Napa Valley Opera House has been host to acts ranging from Robin Williams to Gordon Lightfoot. This summer, the performance center welcomes eight acts geared toward teens and “tweens” as part of the Summer Family Series.

Programming selected for the valley’s youth is not a new concept to the Opera House. They have hosted shows like Idol NV, Napa Valley Educational Jazz Festival and Garage Band 101 as well as professional entertainers including Zoppe Family Circus.

Interim Executive Artistic Director Chris Smith said “Our excitement about launching a Summer Family Series comes from our desire to serve our whole community, inspire and engage young imaginations, and establish accessible, affordable and regular programming.

Smith hopes by exposing a younger generation and their parents, they can expel some of the perceptions that he and his staff feel are keeping Napa residents from attending shows. He cites the organization’s name as well as people’s financial challenges and cultural differences as some of the biggest issues.

To counter these impressions, Smith notes that for the family series “tickets to live performances are about the cost of a movie.”

The Opera House is working with Mechanics Bank and Napa Valley Community Housing to provide blocks of free tickets to low-income families in the valley. Smith considers the arts “a tremendous gift to expand a creative young mind” and hopes to reach as many people as possible.

Smith said he feels a responsibility toward Napa’s youth, especially in the wake of continued budget cuts to public schools and arts education programs. “Nonprofits must recognize our obligation to help fill in the gaps,” he said.

Aside from his opinion that kids just really enjoy live performances, Smith also believes that the arts play a vital role in cognitive development, the ability to navigate across disciplines and the simple task of “thinking outside the box.”

Although the Summer Family Series is aimed at a young generation, Smith hopes that it will also be compelling for “parents, grandparents, youngsters and kids-at-heart.” “As a parent,” he said, “I’m interested in connecting with my kids. Shared cultural experiences are a fantastic way to make that happen.”

Smith described the shows as “eclectic, cool and expansive” and called them a “collection of brightly wrapped boxes waiting to be opened.” He himself is clearly excited about experiencing the series that began last weekend.

The upcoming shows present talents from acrobatics and singing to storytelling, juggling and physical comedy. The next show on Sunday, July 17, features Mark Nizer, a professional clown who performs in 3D. Smith described him as a comedian-juggler-new-technology-entertainer.

After interviewing a local class of fifth grade students what they would be interested in seeing at the Opera House, Smith said they wanted comedy. He took that into consideration when selecting the lineup for the series.

On Sunday, July 24, the show turns local as teen bands from around the valley are to be featured on the Mondavi Stage. Omar Pena, who has hosted the Battle of the Bands in the past, is helping to curate three to four bands to be showcased under the title NV Jam. The lineup is still to be confirmed but will be announced on the Opera House website.

• A circus theme appears again on the last weekend in July as Circus Bella takes the stage. This one-ring circus act is accompanied by a live band. For those not into the circus, the first Sunday in August kicks off the month with the Beatles.

• “Beatles: Across the Universe Sing-Along” may appeal to parents and should be noted that the premise is a romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor British artist, all set during the Vietnam War. While the rest of the performances are approved for all ages, this one carries a rating of PG-13.

• Hot Club San Francisco is gypsy jazz – a collection of professional musicians who play classic tunes with unique arrangements as well as original pieces on violin, bass and guitars. In keeping with the theme of innovative music, Cosmos Percussion Orchestra plays World Music on a collection of more than 40 instruments.

• Avner the Eccentric is a storyteller of physical comedy who will wrap up the Family Series on Sunday, Aug. 28.
“All these performers are able to engage and hold our attention. Their energy and virtuosity create a “wow factor” that should be exciting,” Smith said of the diverse lineup.

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