Chicago Children’s Theatre has found an innovative way to offer an engrossing event that will get families out of their claustrophobic basements and into the fresh outdoors. And it’s a success! “The Beatrix Potter Drive-In Theatre Experience,” which was originally scheduled to run from Oct.1–18, has been such a big hit that it’s been extended to Nov. 1.
Utilizing the theater company’s empty parking spaces and repurposing them into an old-fashioned style drive-in is an inventive approach for engaging little tykes and their parents.
Cars pull into a lot that once was the parking site of a police station, but which now belongs to a renovated building that is the home of Chicago Children’s Theatre—the city’s best-known professional children’s playhouse. The vehicles arrive to watch a show on the theater building’s wall.
Chicago Children’s Theatre
Devoted exclusively to children and young families, the theater company was co-founded in 2005 by Todd Leland and Jacqueline Russell, the theater’s artistic director. It has built a national reputation for inaugurating new world premieres such as “The Selfish Giant,” “Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure,” “Moonshot: A Race to Space,” “The World Inside Me,” “A Snowy Day With Beatrix Potter,” and its production of “The Best Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party” in 2018.
The critically acclaimed troupe—which received the National Artistic Innovation Award from Theatre for Young Audiences in 2019—has reinvented one of its most popular shows “Beatrix Potter and Friends” and transformed it into “The Beatrix Potter Drive-In Theatre Experience.”
A combination of live and pre-recorded action, the show is seen as a projection on a 15 by 30-foot screen in the theater’s parking lot on the south side of its building, and can be heard from one’s car radio. Or, while many families may want to watch the show from the comfort of their cars, some may want to spread out blankets and lawn chairs outside their vehicle for a tailgate party.
The outdoor attraction harkens back to bygone times when drive-ins were abundant and provided an engaging opportunity for teenagers and couples to get together. Maybe the China contagion has made yesteryear’s charm today’s new idea.
A Children’s Favorite
Created by a company collaboration and directed by Will Bishop, the hour-long “The Beatrix Potter Drive-In Theatre Experience” is a combination of four of British author Beatrix Potter’s (1866–1943) favorite stories, which include “The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse,” “The Tailor of Gloucester,” “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” and “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Designed by Grace Needlman, the show brings together actors Kay Kron, Lara Carling, and Ray Rehberg (who performs and plays music of his own composition). In addition, the production is enriched by elegant classical music.
The most popular and best-known of Potter’s books “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was inspired by Beatrix’s childhood cottontail pet named Peter. The enchanting story revolves around a rebellious bunny who can’t resist hopping into forbidden vegetable territory, and who barely escapes with his life when the owner of the garden almost catches him.
Tots and their families can’t help but be captivated as the gifted actors recount Potter’s yarn of Peter Rabbit and his mischievous animal buddies that are enhanced with puppets, cartoon backdrops, and artistic props. “The Beatrix Potter Drive-In Theatre Experience” is such a great idea that one hopes it will catch on with other theaters.
As an arts writer and movie/theater/opera critic, Betty Mohr has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Australian, The Dramatist, the SouthtownStar, the Post Tribune, The Herald News, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and other publications.