By Sue Tiffin
For 35 years now, a few times throughout the year, a crowd of kids has entered through the doors of venues throughout the county prepared to form the audience taking in a Razzamataz Kids’ Show: a magic show; a folktale retold by marionette puppeteers; a story of reconciliation shared through a play; a show of acrobatic stunts set to the drum beat of traditional West African music. Some of the kids come dressed in their best – this is a theatre outing, after all – and many come holding the hands of grandparents who are just as excited to take in a performance, or of parents who also attended shows presented by Razzamataz when they were children themselves.
A family entertainment presenters series, Razzamataz Kids’ Shows began in 1986, first called the Haliburton County Children’s Concert Series, for the purpose of hosting affordable, professional, live entertainment performances for family audiences. Performances were first held in the gyms of Archie Stouffer Elementary School and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, and then in the dining hall at YMCA Camp Wanakita, and the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion, after it was constructed. Performers come from throughout the province, with Haliburton County through Razzamataz being part of a circuit that stretches to the Manitoba border, about 12 other venues being part of that circuit. They’ve also come from as far away as Zimbabwe, and Germany. Some hold workshops with the children separately from the performances.
“The performances presented by Razzamataz Kids’ Shows continue to be the first introduction to the magic of live performing arts for many,” reads a history of the group. “The long-standing success of our organization reflects the sustained interest in and need for affordable live children’s entertainment close to home.”
Now, the small group of long-time volunteer organizers that currently make Razzamataz Kids’ Shows happen are looking for new members to expand the committee and take the family entertainment series forward.
“We want to pass on the torch, and make sure that Razzamataz can continue,” said Isabel Buttler, who serves on the committee as secretary and has children who have grown up watching Razzamataz shows. “When I said we’re discussing the future of Razzamataz, they were all very concerned because they loved going to performances, and the performances they have seen often come up in our conversations and in their play. For them, it’s really a big, big part of their life.”
Dawn Hurd, chairperson, joined the committee when her 12-year-old daughter was a baby.
“We do want to keep it alive,” she said. “I think it’s important to the community, and especially during these times … We want to keep it alive in the county. For a small town, we have a lot of different types of activities, but a lot of families wouldn’t be able to go to the city to watch a theatre show. They might not be able to due to income, and transportation. So we have something in our community that is – it’s still hard to get to if you live out in different areas and transportation’s an issue or you can’t pay for the ticket, we are flexible on that for sure – I think it’s important for our community to continue seeing live theatre for children.”
“The mandate of Razzamataz is really to provide access to live theatre for children and so far it has been primarily, the audience has been babes-in-arms up to maybe 10-years-old,” said Buttler. “That’s usually who comes to the theatre … Even watching theatre, it’s good for mental health for kids. It’s good for families. Families that attend all the shows, they really enjoy doing something as a family. Because we’re so small and we have been with Razzamataz for so long, we are at a crossroads but we don’t want to just step down because we feel it would be a big gap – it would be a big loss to the community if children wouldn’t have access to theatre.”
“And I think it’s good to have new ideas – new ideas, new people, new looks, new artists, new information, new venues – just because we’re used to doing it, it’s always nice to have a fresh look,” said Hurd.
Razzamataz is funded by public funders and local groups and businesses that are “extremely supportive,” said Buttler. Ontario Presents, Canadian Heritage and Ontario Arts Council all support the group, and tickets are heavily subsidized.
“They’re all interested in making sure that children will continue to have access to performing arts, because the value of it is so great for mental health, for emotional intelligence, for teaching empathy, for enjoyment,” said Buttler. “They do want to see this program continue.”
For that to happen, the group needs volunteers who want to get involved, and there are roles for people with diverse backgrounds and skills, as well as those who are open to learning along the way as Hurd and Buttler themselves have done. Anyone with an interest in theatre technology, grant writing, liaising between venues and artists and schools, choosing programming and publicizing the shows would be a good fit.
“There are a lot of places where a person could plug in depending on the interest of people and how people want to be involved, there are a lot of different roles that could be taken on,” said Buttler.
Those volunteers aren’t required to be a parent or a grandparent.
“Everyone brings their own perspective and own knowledge, their own information,” said Hurd. “The more people and different diversities is important, that’s how we can make the shows and Razzamataz even better, when you have different people providing different information.”
The current group would like to implement a spring show, but requires additional team members for that to happen.
“Ideally we will be able to get support to plan and implement a spring show; and whether or not we can run the spring show might depend on this support,” said Buttler. “However, I would like to think that we will be able to do a spring show, either as a new start or a finale to a good many years of children’s theatre in Haliburton County.”
Those interested in volunteering with Razzamataz Kids’ Shows should contact Dawn at 705-854-0728 or email@example.com prior to December. For more information about the organization and what it offers, visit www.razzamataz.ca.