Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can You Keep a Secret? We Are Going to Universal Orlando!

For the last four months my wife and I have been keeping a pretty big secret from my son.
Do you promise you won't tell? Shhhh....

For his eighth birthday we are going to Universal Orlando!  (And he doesn't know!  So don't tell him!)

We are going as part of Family Forward Conference.  It's run by two friends of ours, (the guys who own MomItForward)  and basically it's a conference for social media influencers where the family of the influencer is specifically invited and encouraged to come.

It's held at Universal Orlando every year, (this is the fourth year)  and features VIP tours of the parks, social media topics, time at the pool, a trip to see Blue Man Group, discount hotel, and bonding with other families just like ours, and more importantly lots of vacation time!

Here's what they say:
Join 70 digital families for 4 nights and 5 days of hands-on activities the whole family can enjoy, theme-park entertainment, and fun in the sun by the pool.
 ​Family Forward gives families experiences, ideas, and skills to embrace bonding in the digital age through workshops centered on topics like charity, communication, creativity, team building, and trust. Our premise is that whether you are unplugged or are plugged in, you can maximize opportunities to create connections with your family.


A big part of any conference is sponsors (believe me, I ran a conference, I know!)  So I want to give an extra big shout out to the Sponsors of Family Forward.
You can find out more about each of these sponsors on the Family Forward Sponsor page.

So I can hear you asking:  But how did you keep such a big secret from your son? And more importantly, why?  (Go ahead, ask.  I'll wait!)

The why is the harder question to answer, and so I'll answer that first.  As a professional clown, it should come as no surprise to you that I am a bit of a joker. My family has a tradition of surprises (my wife surprised me with a 50th birthday party 6 weeks late!  I surprised my brother on his 40th birthday by flying to Bogota Colombia.  (and he had surprised me by appearing at my doorstep 3 days before I was scheduled to depart.  Great minds think alike!)  And I have a series of April Fools Pranks on my son that have so far have been quite good.

It's fun to give stuff to people, especially when they aren't expecting it.

The how is easier to explain-- we snuck in a grain of truth.  We were already planning to go to DisneyWorld (as you probably know, we are rabid fans, recently became owners of a Disney Time share, and we've gone there a bunch of times.)
My wife is a guru about when the park will be empty, and according to historical data, the last week of August is one of the slowest weeks for the parks.

So we told him we were going to Disney for 5 days, and as a special treat, we organized with our friends in New York  the McGills (note: not their real name) for Aaron and his best New York friend to meet at Disney.  (You can read about some more of our adventures with the McGills here.)

We are actually taking all the kids to Disney, while the parent McGills have an adults only vacation, because the parent McGills can't stand amusement parks, and we want their kids to grow up relatively normal. (And because the Bear would love it!  We're basically renting siblings for him!)  We are spending 5 days at Disney with the McGill kids, and then my son thinks we are going to visit Grandma who also lives in Florida.  But in reality Grandma is coming to visit us!

Click the image (or this link) to get a Gryffindor robe of your own.

To prepare for this event, I did have to do some devilish preparation, including having my son read all of the Harry Potter books, see most of the Harry Potter Films (we have finished 6, we have both Deathly Hallows movies to watch, which hopefully will happen tomorrow or Friday (we leave on Saturday!))  And we have had to studiously avoid him noticing all of the preparations, including buying him Harry Potter robes, not letting him look at all the emails we've been getting from Family Forward, etc.  It's been hard, but it's been manageable

In the end it will all be worth it. My son gets the best birthday present ever, (two parks, hanging out with his friend, seeing his grandma) we get to hang out with the McGill's (who will spend a day on either end with us at a water park and a dinner before going off to have a lovely adults only vacation).

We are big fans of Disney, but have never been to Universal, so this is the perfect time.  My son is not much of a roller coaster kid, but he loves Harry Potter, he loves having fun, and he loves to swim.

Personally, I'm excited about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and all the rides (which are supposed to be awesome!) but I'm perhaps most excited about Blue Man Group-- amazingly, I've never seen their show live, and it seems like such a natural for me.  When I lived in NY (and now in Chicago) I have just never gotten around to it!

Here's a video/ad of Blue Man Group:

And they lived Happily Ever After.  (at least until the credit card bill comes in.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Hot concert of the week: Justin Roberts at Ravinia

Just found out about this, and we are super excited to go check it out-- Justin Roberts, local Chicago guy who is one of the kingpins of kindie music, is playing at Ravinia this weekend. And we are going!

For the last 20 years, Justin Roberts and his band The Not Ready for Naptime Players have traveled the globe, from Hong Kong to New York, and Miami to Seattle. Justin has performed in front of millions of people on The Today Show, he's been featured on Nick Jr. TV, and his song "Get Me Some Glasses" was on a World Series broadcast. He’s received two GRAMMY nominations, for Jungle Gym in 2010 and Recess in 2013. Recent appearances include performances at NYC's New Victory Theater, DC's National Geographic Live, LA's Getty Museum, Seattle's Moore Theater, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and much much more.

We saw Justin a couple of years ago in a bar setting, and I think Ravinia will be much more conducive to the family-friendly atmosphere that Justin excels in (and he was great at the bar.)

Looking at the literature, he's also getting ready to release his 13nth album for kids and their families  Entitled  Lemonade, it is Justin's 13th album for families, and it contains 12 new original songs.   Sounds like a lot of fun! PRE-ORDER LEMONADE ON AMAZON NOW

Here's how to buy tickets for the Ravinia show:

Find out more about Justin Roberts:

And here are some of Justin's albums on Amazon!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Shylock's Beard by Cary Mazer

I had the opportunity to do something I haven't done in a long time-- I spent the evening with my old Penn Theatre professor Cary Mazer.  To be honest, I don't think I ever took a class with him.  But he was the department head of the Theater Dept. where I had a minor in Theater Arts, and I had met with him several times as I wrestled about what to do.

He was in Chicago because his play Shylock's Beard, won the ATHE award which comes with a script-in-hand production at the conference, which was held in Chicago this year.  I saw the play, and then afterwards Cary and I (and another former student Nora) went for a quick dinner that ended up lasting almost 2 and a half hours! (and by the way, that is Cary's beard to the left)

The play was quite good, and very clever.  It involves a Shakespearian professor who hates the play the Merchant of Venice, but agrees to dramaturg a production of it because the theatre needs somebody Jewish to be involved-- to be the "beard" to give them the moral ability to do the play without seeming anti-semitic. The play follows his travails as Shylock the character (and the archetype) becomes his obsession, and these ideas take over his real life as well as his imaginary life.

The play was very good, and I can imagine theatre companies picking this play up.  The three things I really liked about it:

1) Parallelism.  The parallels between the play and what happens in the main character's life are really well done.  They are not so overt, but they follow the play well. And the moments when they are highlighted are quite funny.

2) The Erasing of stories.  There's a really interesting development toward the end of the play where the character has the idea to write a play about his situation, and we the audience are made aware that it is this play.  But several of the characters ask not to be in the play, and suddenly some of the gaps in the play (especially between the main character and his wife) become quite clear.  The story we are hearing is the protagonist's story.  The other people's stories are delightfully out of focus.

3) Insider Baseball.  The play takes us inside two interesting environments: Rehearsing a play and academia.  Seeing the inside workings (a little bit of how the sausage is made) in both of those is always interesting

After the play, Cary and I and another student went out for a dinner, where we talked about a variety of things, including former teachers at Penn (Ilona Gerbner), teaching philosophies, personal stories, and much much more.  It was a wide ranging conversation, which only ended when they started turning on and off the lights.  It was a great time!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Giant Word Winder at the Edgewater Public Library with David Hoyt

We met David Hoyt at last year's CHITAG , and he's a great guy.  And the game is fun AND educational.

This looks like a great event. And it's right in the neighborhood!  (We won't be there, because we are in camp that week, but you should definitely check it out.  It will be fun.)

GIANT Word Winder with David L. Hoyt

GIANT Word Winder with David L. Hoyt

Tuesday, August 9, 2016 (2:00PM – 3:00PM)


Meet toy and game inventor David L. Hoyt, creator of daily Jumble puzzles found in newspapers across the world as well as puzzles in the Summer Learning Challenge Explorer's Guide. Learn about how he became an inventor and why he believes in the power of words, then learn to play one of David's inventions: GIANT Word Winder where you'll travel across a GIANT game board by building words.
This program is for children ages 10 - 12 years old.
Registration is required. Space is limited.
To register call the library.
Address: 6000 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660
Phone: (312) 742-1945


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Win Opening Night Tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil's Toruk: The First Flight (Chicago!)

Photo of performer from Toruk

The new Cirque du Soleil touring show TORUK – The First Flight will be at the United Center in Chicago August 3-7, 2016.

YOU CAN WIN TICKETS TO SEE THE OPENING NIGHT!  Keep on reading to find out how!

 Inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking movie AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight transports the audience to a far away place (Pandora) using a combination of music, acrobatics, cutting-edge visuals, and puppetry to make the story come to life.

 As you can see from this promo video, the puppetry, costumes, and props are sensational.

And here's one of the first 30 second spots/ads from TV:


toruk_1When a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, two boys on the brink of adulthood decide to take matters into their own hands. They and their newfound friend Tsyal, search for a flying predator (Toruk) that can help them in their quest. A prophecy is fulfilled when a pure soul rises among the clans to ride Toruk for the first time and save the Na’vi from a terrible fate. 

As is true in many Cirque shows, I expect that the story will get lost somewhere in the second act, but considering the amazing spectacle that will unfold, including puppetry projections, performances, and everything else (and in an arena, not a circus tent) I expect to not care too much.

 (I've read that there are 40 video projectors in use during the show. The total projection space is over 20,000 square feet of area, 5 times as much projection space as an IMAX film.) 

The puppetry also looks amazing!  Cruising around the Toruk website, I found these images/sketches of how they made some of the puppets.

  cirque_austrapede cirque_direhorse cirque_turtlepuppet cirque_viperwolf

Ticket information

TORUK – The First Flight will be presented at the United Center on August 3-7, 2016. Tickets can be purchased at

But you can win tickets by entering our Dadapalooza Raffle.  Cirque has generously offered a 4 pack for this giveaway.  Click  Dadapalooza Cirque giveaway to enter!  The winner will be drawn by random using Rafflecopter software.  Entry closes on July 31.  Winners notified August 1.

PLEASE NOTE: The Raffle has ended, but you can use this link to get 15% off of tickets.

Hope you enjoy the show!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ninjago meets American Ninja Warrior-- this Sunday at Orland Park!

If your kid is age 7-12 and is excited about Legos and about America Ninja Warrior, this next post is for you!

Marrying two great Ninja ideas into one, Lego has created The LEGO® NINJAGO™ Quest2NINJAGO™ WU-CRU Team Challenge. a highly visual and interactive obstacle course competition.  This event will happen this Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24.
All photos and images on this page courtesy of LEGO website.

The basketball sized competition course, anchored by large-scale LEGO brick models of two popular NINJAGO characters, invites children ages 7-12 in teams of two to compete in eight timed physical and mental challenges.

Challenges include:

• Element Tumbler Puzzle: crack the code by solving four color pattern challenges
• Kai’s Laser Maze: use physical agility to navigate a tangled web of laser rays
• Jay’s Lightning Maze: guide a wand through a maze without touching the “lightning”
• Mystery Tile Puzzle: correctly place tiles on the board to reveal a secret image
• Madness Mountain: roll “boulders” down a mock mountain to knock out all the enemies
• Lloyd’s Ninja Build: use LEGO bricks to recreate a ninja sculpture
• Cole’s Table Maze: tilt the table to guide a ball through the maze
• Unlock the Chest: find the three pieces to create the key that unlocks the treasure

The top team from Chicago will be sent on an all-inclusive trip to LEGOLAND® California Resort to compete in the Finale, along with winners from other regional competitions, including places like Austin, Charlotte, Boston, and Los Angeles.

Some of the city competitions have already happened and it looks like great fun!

 WHERE: Orland Park Toys ”R” Us Parking Lot (45 Orland Square Dr., Orland Park, IL 60462) WHEN: July 23 & 24, 2016 from 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM

The event is FREE, but participants are highly encouraged to pre-register in advance on the Quest2NINJAGO tour site:  There are some limited walk-on slots.

We are going to compete on Sunday with a school friend.  Our team is THE ROCKETS!  Wish us luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Family Business

Publicity shot from the flea circus.
I'm performing my show The Acme Flea Circus 5 times this summer as part of the Chicago Park District Night Out In The Parks Program. (see here for all the details. )
The shows are all free, so it would be great if you came out! I've got 4 more!

My first show was today. (Not open to the public-- it was part of a camp program.)


 My son came along because of the following:

A) my wife was working, and had an appointment, so I couldn't leave him with her.
B) we're trying to save money, so he's not going to camp every day.
C) I wanted him to see what I do.

If you guessed D) ALL OF THE ABOVE you would be correct.

On the drive to the show, I realized that this is the first time that he was going to be helping me do a show. Yes, he's seen my show multiple times but he hasn't been in the business (backstage, setting up, striking, etc.)

Shows in the Chicago parks this summer.
He's never really expressed an interest in performing, other than glibly. He loves acrobatics, and he loves to do tricks, just not in front of people. If we were waiting in line, and I said, "Let's do a trick for these people in line." he would demur.

 I've never wanted to push him into performing if that's not what he wants to do.  I have a friend who is also a performer, has a son born around the same time as AA, and that kid was born wanting to perform. (he has been on a soap opera, in an opera at BAM, just booked a national commercial, and is currently in an HBO series with James Franco!)

I think he'd be good, as he loves to pretend, he's very cute and photogenic, and he can be quite funny.  But he has to want it.

Anyway, he agreed to help out today.  His big job was to be the house manager.  He had to go open the door to the room, kick down the doorstop and say "Ladies and Gentleman, the house is now open."  He confided to me that he was a little nervous about it. We went over the ground rules (watch the show quietly, he has to do what is expected of him, he can't ruin the show for other kids by saying what comes next, etc.)

Trying on the hat for size.  It could work!
He did well, opening the door perfectly, sitting quietly.  I explained to him that one of the hardest things a performer has to do is wait.  We arrived at 8:45am for an 11 am show.  (an hour to set up typically, and an hour to troubleshoot anything that might go wrong.) He was a little restless but mostly held it together.  He also asked me a bunch of questions about training the fleas. I told him that I don't tell anybody how I train them, but if he ended up wanting to perform the show after I retired, I would teach him.  He seemed pretty excited about that.

 Before I had my son, I was performing on a pretty regular basis, making an okay and occasionally decent living from it.  I was touring a lot, going to festivals a lot, driving a lot. But that all changed after the baby was born. It made sense for me to be the stay at home parent, and my wife to become the bread winner. I still perform occasionally, but not as often. And that is an itch I would like to scratch.

I have a weird fantasy of us putting together a show and going on tour together. Maybe do the Summer Fringe Festival Circuit? We'd make a good team I think; I'm so big, he's so little, he can be very bossy.   (I am not sure what my wife would do in this summer touring fantasy.  Run the box office?)

Anyway, that probably won't happen, but today was a nice start. And who knows? If I can teach him to run the sound system and do all the sound cues it could still work out!