Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Land of Oz

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week, a man and his 5-year-old daughter enjoyed a full day at Fairyland. They were exiting through the gift shop when the man looked up and noticed two puppets in a display that honors the 60th anniversary of our renowned puppet theater—the longest-running in America.

The Alice in Wonderland and White Rabbit puppets that caught his eye had starred in a 1960s Fairyland production, and on the display we noted the person who designed the puppets’ lovely costumes: Frances Oznowicz, who happens to have been the grandmother of our visitor, Mike Oz.

Mike and Frances Oznowicz with marionettes at one of Fairyland's annual puppet fairs in the 1950s.

Although he’d visited Fairyland many times, as both a child and a father, Mike now felt the time was right to learn more about the place that played a key role in the lives and careers of three of his closest family members.

We’re so glad he did.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Day to Play with STEM

By C.J. Hirschfield

By now, pretty much everyone knows that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and that mastery of STEM spells success in school and beyond.

STEM jobs in the East Bay pay well –$80,000 a year or more, even without an advanced degree.  And jobs are plentiful: No other region in the nation can boast three national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia – as well as a cross-section of manufacturing companies that use robot operators, 3-D printers, software designers, researchers, and programmers. What’s more, jobs in STEM are only expected to increase.

But many young people in our community are not prepared to take these good jobs. It’s a challenge that East Bay business leaders have been working on for decades, particularly directing their focus on school-age kids.

The trouble is, by the time kids are taught STEM subjects in high school, or even in elementary school, it may be too late. We need to start much younger, getting kids excited about math and science during their pre-kindergarten years.

And – in case you were wondering – that’s where Fairyland fits in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Forbidden Puppets

By C.J. Hirschfield

The year was 1956. The average cost of a new house was $11,700. Elvis appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time. The Warriors—the Philadelphia Warriors, that is—won the NBA championship.

And Children’s Fairyland’s puppet theater opened to the public for the very first time.

The Storybook Puppet Theater in 1957.

Sixty years, 150 productions and close to 50,000 performances later, the Storybook Puppet Theater is the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States. We think it’s a great time to celebrate this landmark institution, the place where literally millions of kids were first exposed to live performing arts and where the talents of many young puppeteers – including the Muppets’ Frank Oz – were nurtured.

And what better way to celebrate than to do something our theater—and the city of Oakland—has never seen before?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Welcome, Little Citizens!

By C.J. Hirschfield

Given Children’s Fairyland’s prime location, whimsical setting and talented professional staff, we get pitched all the time by individuals, companies and all sorts of entities. Sometimes, as when a marijuana dispensary wanted to host a holiday party that included smoking tents, we politely turn down the request, saying it isn’t “Fairylandish,” a word we use to evoke our strong brand, which is authentic, non-cynical, playful and low tech.

But occasionally we’ll be presented with an offer we just can’t refuse, because it is so brilliantly—and obviously—Fairylandish. And that is why, on the first day of August, 20 children ages 3 to 9, from nine countries, will receive their United States citizenship papers onstage in our park.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pokémon ... STOP?

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I learned about two events that at first seemed unrelated but turned out to be connected.  A teenager entered my co-worker’s yard, inadvertently letting her dog out. And at Fairyland, a parent tripped on our yellow brick road while focusing on his smartphone instead of where he was going.

What do these occurrences have in common? Both the teen and the parent were playing Pokémon GO. 

If you were on a remote island last week, you may not know about a craze that's taken over America and 26 European countries: Pokémon GO, an interactive game app for smartphones, was released on July 6. It's an updated version of the original Nintendo console game that debuted in 1996. 

With Pokémon GO, your phone becomes a portal to the Pokémon world, where you can see animated Pokémon in your neighborhood or other public spaces (and also private ones). When you "capture" them, you can then take them to other designated spaces that serve as "gyms," where you can train them to fight other Pokémon for points.

Without our knowledge or approval, the game’s creators designated six Poké stops in Children’s Fairyland: Noah’s Ark, the Humpty Dumpty Wall, Anansi’s Web (our Ferris wheel), a horse in our Old West Junction, the bong tree in the Owl and the Pussycat set, and Tweedledee. A Pokémon gym is located just outside our gates, at Lakeside Park’s bandstand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Putt 'er Here!

By C.J. Hirschfield

I love reading Funworld Magazine, the official publication of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It was there that I learned that the enduring game of miniature golf will be celebrating its centennial this year. That’s right: 100 years of windmills, clowns, tubes, ramps, chutes, kitsch and Americana.

You may not know that Fairyland’s original sets, designed in 1950 by architect William Russell Everritt, were widely copied by developers of mini-golf courses in the 1950s and 1960s. Storybook theme parks and mini-golf courses both proliferated in the postwar years, as families sought out affordable places to have fun together.

Filmmaker and mini-golfer Amanda Kulkoski. Favorite course obstacle: the "Pachinko hole."

Amanda Kulkoski fell in love with the sport in the 1980s, when she was growing up. So it wasn’t surprising that her first job in her hometown of Green Bay, Wis., was at the local miniature golf course. She’d sweep the holes, move boulders to alter a course, hand out balls, sell soft-serve ice cream and clean the bathrooms.

“I loved to play – still do,” she says.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Little Library

I always respond personally to the customer complaints we receive at Fairyland. We learn a lot from our guests, and we often translate their suggestions into reality.

But a note we received last week included a slew of complaints, one of which really touched a nerve. I reproduce it here verbatim:

“You should have a really cool candy shop where the library is who wants to read a book in Fairyland.”

The guest was referring to our reading room, lovingly curated by Oakland public librarians. It’s a sweet, quiet space where a kid can sit on an adult’s lap or on a giant stuffed bear and enjoy the pleasures of books and reading.
The Children’s Fairyland Reading Room offers kids and parents a chance to relax and enjoy books.