Monday, February 27, 2017

The Idea-a-Minute Man

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I was honored to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the William Penn Mott, Jr., Presidio Visitor Center in San Francisco. It was a stunningly sunny day, with the Golden Gate Bridge glowing in the distance. The event honored a diverse city, the power of partnerships, and the legacy of a man who devoted his life to supporting public parks.

National Park Service mounted police at the Presidio.

But before he ran the U.S. National Park Service – before he directed California’s parks and recreation department, before he was general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District – William Penn Mott, Jr., was superintendent of parks for the City of Oakland. While he held that job he created Children’s Fairyland. And many millions of kids (and parents) are thankful for that achievement.

Monday, February 20, 2017

To Sleepover, Perchance to Dream

By C.J. Hirschfield

The calendar still says February, but here at Fairyland we have summer on our minds. Registration for two of our popular summer programs – birthday parties and summer sleepovers — is now open. And our summer-camp sessions filled up within the first week. 

It seems like a good time to revisit a column I originally wrote in 2009, about one local (and famous) author’s experiences with his daughter at a Fairyland summer sleepover.

Waiting for sunset: A Fairyland sleepover gets under way.

When I wrote it, we were celebrating: For the first time in a couple of years, Fairyland’s summer sleepovers were completely sold out. (This year, we still have plenty of spaces! Go to the “Events and Performances” section of our website to sign up for one of four dates in July and August.) We wondered: Why the sudden good fortune? Maybe a mention in a book that had just been published was the cause.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We Hear Voices...

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week the puppet show “The Three Wishes” opened at Children’s Fairyland. It was the first time the show – a classic German folk tale – had been mounted here in 21 years. In our telling, a woodcutter is rewarded with three wishes after aiding an elf. Things quickly get out of control.

We often use the original soundtrack of the show, using voices and music that were recorded long ago. It may seem sad to hear that all of the voice-talent artists who recorded the show have passed away, but to Fairyland’s master puppeteer Randal Metz, it’s a comfort.

A youthful Randal was at the recording session for “Wishes” back in the 1970s, and for most sessions after that. Here’s the way it worked:

Adult and child cast members would meet in Fairyland master puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann’s stately, historic Oakland apartment for a homemade dinner. Everyone would have received their scripts beforehand, and Lewis or Randal would direct. All would do a read-through together, and then take suggestions and talk about emphasis. The show would be recorded, all would listen and then try again. There would be much laughter and, after the kids left, some drinking.

Left to right: master puppeteer Randal Metz, David Jones, and Liesel and Brian Weimer record the puppet show soundtrack for "Brer Rabbit" in 1995.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Whatever Floats Your Teeth...

By C.J. Hirschfield

Amy Blake was due to have her baby in just a few days, but that didn’t keep her from coming to Children’s Fairyland to see our equines – two donkeys and one miniature horse – having their teeth filed. “Of course I said yes!” she said.

And that is how last Wednesday, the extremely pregnant Amy – who is a dentist for humans, and is married to Fairyland’s facilities manager, Nick Mitchell – found herself observing the work of Billy Liskey, equine dental technician. He was happy to have the company because, he said, he likes to explain his job—and to show off the $30,000 in equipment he’s invested in his practice.

Dental technician Billy Laskey works on our donkey Gideon's teeth.