Flash: Mom Takes Kid into Detroit, Survives to Tell Tale

Dear Suburban Parents:

Gut-check time. Have you taken your kids to Detroit lately? Because you need to foster city love. And you can have fun, too.

Hey. Don’t get defensive. I’m just like you. I live outside of the city, so I cannot throw stones too far. I hugely admire the families that are fully committed to Detroit. To try to make up for my geographic faults, I make a conscious effort to take my two tots into the city on a regular basis.

They go to the Science Center (or will soon). They roam the Historical Museum. They terrorize the Detroit Institute of Arts (sorry, nervous docents). They follow the Nain Rouge down Cass Corridor. They play in the parks, cruise the Riverfront, throw rocks at the Ice Houses. They’re little Hipsters in Training.

Our latest sojourn was to PuppetART. I’ll admit – this one was more for me than for them. And if you haven’t ventured out of your zone to try this place, you are MISSING OUT. With capital letters, baby, so you know I mean it.

It actually was just the two of us this time…my 4-year-old diva and me on a Girl’s Day Out. I just brought the kid as cover for my own good time. (And it started with sweet, sweet crepes from Good Girls Go to Paris; I’m a very spoiled brat. But I digress.)

PuppetART Center is located in Detroit’s Theater District, just a few blocks from the Michigan Opera Theater, Music Hall and the Gem and Century Theaters. And the location couldn’t be more fitting. This is more than puppetry. This is theater.

This is art in all of its forms. This is educational entertainment of the highest form. Artistic Director Igor Gozman explains that pretty much everything within the art world is on display during a puppet show: acting, painting, sculpture, dance, song, literature. Stories of all kinds are told here – poetry, political satire, folktales, legends, fairytales, myths.

Since 1998, artists and puppeteers from a variety of international origins (its foundation are a trio of former Soviet Union puppeteers who have toured together since 1995) have provided a regular rotation of classic stories. Every month, there is a different show.

The new “Snow Queen” performances that start in December promise to be outstanding; a recent Kickstarter campaign got the project funded for a three-year run. The economic downturn has been hard on PuppetART; people are staying close to home, not spending money, not focusing on the big picture. And giving kids a great experience in the city may not be a priority…although, I’d argue, it has to be.

And did I mention the culture? Oh yes. There is diversity; the real stuff, not just what some college professor forces on you. You can balance the guilt for letting your kids play hours of “Angry Birds” by taking them here. Really. And guilt is the hot button of the modern parent. You need to balance that screen time with some theater, puppet style.

The 70-person theater is intimate. There are seats close enough to help the tiny ones see all the action yet enough room for kids in elementary or middle school to spread out. The stage is small, but so are the actors so you get used to it. And it is never stagnate – the puppets move across it like Beyonce in her pre-pregnancy days. They strut. They stroll. They fight and tussle. They own every inch of the space. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, the stage shifts, a curtain moves, a scene changes in a way you didn’t expect. It is magical, even for us crusty old folks.

Don’t expect to see Kermit when you walk in. This is more refined. The puppets look and sound like real people based on our experience watching “Firebird,” a Russian folk tale that tells the story of star-crossed lovers. The puppets move more like humans as well – something so eerie, elegant and amazing that you’ll find yourself completely enthralled. Like a kid. Like a well-educated kid.

And there’s more than just the show here. There’s the studio, where children and parents can learn how to make puppets and move them about. There’s the museum, where the art work created for PuppetART’s shows and others are on a rotating display.

Yes, I loved it. My kid loved it. We came back to our vehicle – which was parked right where we left it, undamaged and ready to roll – and went home to stage our own performance. Granted, it was with finger puppets, but the magic was still there.

So come to Detroit. Bring the little ones. I think you’ll like what you find there.


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2 comments on “Flash: Mom Takes Kid into Detroit, Survives to Tell Tale

  1. Dear KD: My friend and I are two moms who have broken through the suburban electric fence and regularly come to Detroit to explore the big, the small and the edgy stuff going on. (Our kids are older than yours, so we do this when they are in school). We meet a lot of cool people when we are out and about, but rarely do we ever meet moms, so it was very exciting to see your post. Thanks for encouraging others to venture out. The Puppet Museum was on our bucket list, so you just reminded me why I need to actually get it scheduled.
    KS (Alive and well after visiting Detroit hundreds of times)

  2. I'm 26 now ans grew up beside Detroit. My parents thought it was extremely important that I know and live the city while growing up, along with know my way around the city. Through high school I grew up in all the music venues, the museums, and various art galleries. I credit my parents fully with my knowledge and love for Detroit. It's extremely important for people to foster love for the city. There is a lot going on and I wish when I was younger there was so much happening in the city like there is now.

    Two things I think every kid should experience is an Eastern Market Saturday with the bustling market atmosphere and The Heidelberg Project. Heidelberg is constantly a source of inspiration for me and I have seen so many kids eyes light up and what was done there. Next summer my daughter will be old enough to appreciate it so as soon as the weather warms it's Heidelberg and Dequindre Cut.

    Finally, crepes are amazing!

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