Preschool Pops brings wonders of music, dance and theater

For close to a decade, the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts has shared with the children of the community the wonders of music, dance and theatre through its Preschool Pops Series, which cranks up again in early January.

The five programs scheduled for 2008 at the Rockdale Auditorium in Olde Town Conyers will take the 3- to 5-year-old set (and their parents) on excursions to China and Africa and will include a performance by the Atlanta Ballet, a puppet show and a sing-along.

"The series is a wonderful opportunity to introduce preschoolers to experience being part of a live audience," said CRCA program coordinator Renee Cannon. "It's a great time for the young ones - they just love it. We've got such an awesome lineup, filled with cultural diversity, entertainment and education."

"This is one of the most important things we do for the community because it's the most important thing we do for young people," added Sue Chappell, executive director of the CRCA.

The entertainment-and-education series, which is sponsored in part by Kids R Kids, features performers from the Young Audiences Arts for Learning at the Woodruff Arts Center, a network of some 70 professional artists that "brings the power of live arts experiences to Georgia students from preschool to high school," according to the Young Audiences Web site.

With the exception of January and April, the events are held at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month. January's performances, which feature the Atlanta Ballet, are scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9 and April's program, showcasing singer-storyteller Julie Austin, is set for April 15 and 16.

Here's a brief look at the performances scheduled:

* Jan. 8 and 9 - The Atlanta Ballet presents "A Toy Castle." The legendary Atlanta Ballet, now celebrating its 78th year of performance excellence, will stage a fully-costumed performance designed to help children see the world through different ways. "A Toy Castle" promotes values like sharing, taking responsibility and being yourself.

* Feb. 5 and 6 - Theatre Gael/Holly Stevenson presents "Nosy Rosey Comes to Visit." Working out of the famed 14th Street Playhouse in downtown Atlanta, Theatre Gael is the region's premier Celtic theatre troupe and Stevenson is one of its busiest actors. Stevenson - along with colorful props, music, puppets, pantomime and "general silliness" - explores a day in the life of a curious child and helps audience members become part of the show, which imparts lessons on trust, friendship, sharing, respect and love.

* March 4 and 5 - Lisa Chyn presents "China Through Dance." Also known as An Fong, Chyn is the founder and director of the Lisa Chyn Ensemble and the An Fong Dance Company. "China Through Dance" will introduce children to Chinese cultural through costumes, traditions and "The Silver Plate Dance" and "The Umbrella Dance."

* April 15 and 16 - Julie Austin presents "Sing Along with Julie." In addition to being an early childhood education consultant, Parents Choice Award winner Austin is a singer and musician who makes students active performers in her shows, which feature music styles ranging from folk to swing to bluegrass. Now what child can resist a sing-along?

* May 6 and 7 - Manga African Dance presents "Dance Drama." Founded in 1990 by Ramatu Afegbua-Sabbatt, Manga highlights high-energy dances from Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa. "Dance Drama" tells the story of a king who ventures to a foreign town and learns the importance of education. Performers also talk with children about the importance of drums and storytelling in African society.

Cannon said that in addition to learning about different music, dance and theatre forms and styles, the youngsters attending Preschool Pops events will be schooled in audience etiquette and understanding and respecting different cultures and traditions.

And it will be hard to find a better bargain than the Pops shows, which are $3 for children and free for adults. Chappell said that because of artist's requirements that children be able to as close as possible to the performers, some shows may have fewer tickets available than others.

"The artists want the children to be able to get up close and see everything, which may limit the size of the audience," said Chappell. "We should be able to accommodate at least 200 to 250 for each show."

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Preschool Pops 2008 series presented by the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts and sponsored in part by Kids R Kids

When: January through May, on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m., with the exception of January's shows, which are Jan. 8 and 9, and April's shows, which are April 15 and 16

Where: Rockdale Auditorium, 903 S. Main St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: $3 for children and adults are free. For ticket information, call 770-922-3143 or visit www.conyersarts.org.