On a sunny day in downtown Beverly Hills, moms, dads, newborns, toddlers and older kids alike gather in folding chairs around an outdoor patio. This small sanctuary of trees with plenty of room for play, sits right on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and the 2. Cars rush past and a rather unique-looking building that is half former historical post office, half modern theatre with bright orange windows.
Today, in this little oasis amongst the hustle and bustle - and the wealth - of Beverly Hills, kids run to the front to sit right in front of a stage decorated with costumes, instruments and scenery meant to look like a Broadway show. There’s hubbub as staff and performers get everything ready to go. Parents make a final push to corral their kids and finally–
Background: “Okay, without further ado - Broadway Babies!”
This is Sunday Funday, put on monthly by The Wallis Annenberg Center. Aimed at kids - and parents - of all ages, this event is entirely free.
Background: “What is a sitzprobe? Well, a sitzprobe is when the singers rehearse with the orchestra. Oh, when the singers rehearse with an orchestra!”
Especially considering the nature of what it means to be located in Beverly Hills, parents attending this event - and the artists performing - know just how important free arts programming means. Tiffany, one of the parents who brought her kids and some of their friends along to this month’s Sunday Funday, says she adores opportunities like this.
Tiffany: “I think something about things being free just gives opportunity for everyone to experience culture and arts, and I think it’s a privilege. So I’m very grateful that we have this opportunity.”
She also says free, high-quality arts education was something she was thrilled to find, and something that’s hard to come by in L.A.
Tiffany: “We’re coming from Culver City, but originally from Toronto. We’ve been here for nine weeks now, and we love our arts and culture. We love dance. Two of the girls in our group dance.”
This month, the program has two acts. The first is a group called Broadway Babies. They teach the basics of live theater to kids of all ages. Nicole Mangi, one of the group’s co-founders, says that arts education is at the heart of their show.
Nicole Mangi: “We really wanted to teach kids about Broadway and...and being.”
That’s Leah Sprecher, Broadway Babies’ other co-founder.
Leah Sprecher: “Using your imagination to create a show wherever you are in your home that you don’t have to have a stage to perform and explore these things that we love, like singing and dancing and acting.”
And all the kids get the opportunity to sing, dance and act. On stage, Mangi and Spreker perform against a backdrop of whimsical faux-Broadway sets complete with costume boxes and ukeleles. Right now, we’re learning about characters though the use of animal puppets.
Background: “Is this a cow? And what does a cow voice sound like? Moo! Thank you so much I’m very moo-ved to be here.”
Mangi and Spreker say that especially after that pandemic, kids need these live performance outlets to explore creativity and have their own voice. It certainly helps that it’s free.
Nicole Mangi: “What the Wallis is doing is incredible because it’s offering this free opportunity for anyone to come bring their kids, be exposed to music, theater, arts at such a young age. And it’s it’s so special.”
Leah Sprecher: “To not only that but have some production value like we have a whole tech crew, like the sound’s great, like it’s that they’re putting effort into it as opposed to just like, you know, out at a park with like none of that infrastructure.”
They both say that their show in particular encourages teamwork and community. Even a one-man show has a lighting designer, after all.
Background: “Make sure, as well… (music begins) it it, level wise, good for everyone? We’re good?...”
Sunday Funday then moves on to its other and pretty prominent act - teachers from the Emmy winner Debbie Allen’s dance company. Which made an impression on parent Tiffany.
Tiffany: “And so I used to be a dancer and so I just love being here.”
A recurring guest at Sunday Fundays, the acclaimed Debbie Allen dance company doesn’t just draw in kids. Parents and grandparents also join in for the classes.
Background: “(music begins) 5, 5, 6, 7, 8.”
This month, the dance class is on salsa.
Background: “One, and two!”
The most important part of this program, though, is, of course, its target audience.
Melanie: “My name’s Melanie and I’m seven and a half years old.”
Soleil: “I am Soleil and I am seven years old.”
Soleil says she likes the movement of both theater and dance.
Charlotte Phillipp: “How did you like the class so far?”
Soleil: “It was pretty good.”
Charlotte Phillipp: “Yeah? What did you like about it?”
Soleil: “That you got to move your body around a lot.”
As the show ends, guitars and costumes are packed up along with diaper bags. The only thing most people are thinking about is how tired they are after a morning of play. But Mangi says she hopes they were able to provide an outlet for both play and growth for the kids who attended.
Nicole Mangi: “The arts are really a welcoming place for all types of people, and I think a lot of people identify that with that and find a home there and they feel comfortable that they can start to come out of their shell more and feel confident.”
After a long day of performance and fun, it becomes clear why programming like this matters. The pandemic, coupled with cuts made to arts programs around the country have made it all the more important to make sure that children have avenues to be creative. So, what could be more important than opening this up to all kids for free? For the Sunday Funday schedule, check the website at thewallis-dot-org. This program takes place once a month, and, as always, it’s completely free.
For Ampersand Radio, I’m Charlotte Phillipp.