Leland introduces a show at the Regent.
Leland Stein is Director of Marketing and Booking Manager at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.
The Regent produces the Family Fun Series every year from October through April, bringing in awesome kids’ bands from across the country and hosting local bands from around New England and Massachusetts.
Leland hunts down these children’s performers, produces the shows, and sends the word out to parents like you who are looking for fun things to do with your kids during some of the coldest months of the year.
I got to sit down with Leland for a quick Q&A about the Regent Theatre and the Family Fun Series…
Boston Children’s Music: How did the Family Fun Series get started?
Leland: There’s a guy named Dan Foley who is part of a juggling duo called the Airborne Comedians and he is really well connected with the children’s family entertainment community, especially the Faneuil Hall street performers. We didn’t know the first thing about what kind of family entertainment would sell or who the audience would be, so he helped us produce the series the first year or two.
Once I got the handle for the kind of things that worked and didn’t work then I took over hiring the talent and producing the shows in the series.
BCM: So what works and doesn’t work in a kids’ show?
Leland: We learned the hard way that the main audience is preschool and early grade school. We thought we would be more sophisticated and produce shows for grade school and older, but those are the kids who already have a lot of activities going on with sports and soccer and dance classes.
We also try to keep in mind that we want to find shows that the parents will enjoy as well. And I guess we predominantly put on music shows. There are more children’s music entertainers around than other genres and it can be hard to find really good and dynamic jugglers or puppets. So we do try to mix it up, but usually we fall back on the music shows.
We have a lot of people who come through on a regular basis and we try to bring them back; someone like Justin Roberts or Billy Jonas from out of town. And of course we bring in local artists like SteveSongs, Ben Rudnick, Vanessa Trien, or Debbie & Friends.
BCM: Who else do you have set up for the rest of the season?
BCM: I wanted to ask you about that. We’ve never done the Sing-A-Long Mary Poppins, how does the show work?
Leland: Well, it’s really kind of like Rocky Horror Picture Show for families. It’s a really nice restored print of the film with the song lyrics burnt into it and everyone who comes gets a Perform-Along Fun Pack with little objects you can use to interact with the film. For example there’s a tambourine, so whenever Dick Van Dyke is playing music with his one-man band the kids can play along.
We also encourage kids and grown ups to come in costume as their favorite character or something inspired by the film and then we do a parade before the film down the aisles and up on stage. There’s also a Master of Ceremonies that leads the parade and shows people how to use the things in their fun pack.
BCM: So do you show the whole movie or just the music parts?
Leland: We show the whole movie but only the parts with music display the words. It’s really a lively thing. We’ve also done the Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz and we may bring back the Sing-A-Long Sound of Music, too.
So Mary Poppins has become a tradition that we do every Thanksgiving and in December we have some holiday shows. We’ll have the Legacy Dancers the first weekend of December and that’s just great because they choose really interesting holiday music, it’s not just your standard Christmas carols, and then there are eighty dancers, a lot of them kids’ ages eleven to eighteen, and really great choreography and stunning costumes.
And the last show of the year will be the Holiday Extravaganza with Ben Rudnick and Friends. Right now I’m busy trying to program January through April.
I think parents are really aware of the value of their kids seeing a live show with the interactive and educational nature of it. You get so much more out of a live show than you ever could from a CD or DVD.
BCM: So the Family Fun Series covers mostly the winter months?
Leland: We do it October through April. We’ve found that once the nice weather hits people stop coming.
BCM: And you also do birthday parties?
Leland: We do them in conjunction with the series. We set them up in these back platforms—we take the chairs out and set up tables. The kids sit together during the show then afterwards they meet the artists then come back here for cake and we bring in pizza and juice and they have their party here.
BCM: So does that mean you only do parties October through April?
Leland: Well, we can also do parties where the family brings in a DVD of a movie and the kids can watch it here. We can do that up here on the big screen or down in the basement space where there is a smaller stage and screen.
BCM: Didn’t Ben Rudnick & Friends shoot their video for A Frog Named Sam down there?
BCM: How do you choose the performers you’re going to have in the series?
Leland: We like to have the regulars back, like SteveSongs, who has a great draw. We like to have him kick off the series in early October. But we don’t want it to get stale, so we mix in some new performers, too. Sometimes we find someone just based on a recommendation from a parent or a customer; Sometimes someone from a band will tell us about another band they know. Either way we end up getting some really interesting performers coming through.
BCM: Why do you keep producing the Family Fun Series? Why do you think live music is important for kids and families?
Leland: Well, I think that it’s a real change from your standard video and television entertainment. When we first started the series our motto was “Way Better Than TV!” Why waste your family’s time with Saturday morning cartoons when you could come in and see some live entertainment?
The parents seem really grateful that we’re doing it and in a theatre setting, too. A lot of kids’ entertainment will be in libraries or schools and not on a big stage. It’s fun to be able to do that. And the performers really like the opportunity to do it, too. We also have 500 seats so we can put on some really big shows, too.
And I think parents are really aware of the value of their kids seeing a live show with the interactive and educational nature of it. You get so much more out of a live show than you ever could from a CD or DVD.