The birds and th ABCs

He’s been on the cover of Time, performed at the White House and visited China. No, not Richard Nixon, but an equally important figure in American history; Big Bird, and he’s headed for Edinburgh, along with the rest of the Sesame Street brood.

First broadcast in 1969, the original aim of Children’s Television Workshop’s show was to ‘stimulate the intellectual and cultural growth of young children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds’. The result was a show which managed to be politically correct before the term even existed, without ever becoming mired in tedious right-on orthodoxies. Sesame Street represents an alternative to the nuclear family, in a tone neither tub- thumping, nor patronising. Children’s natural curiosity means they approach anything that’s ‘diflerent’ with varying degrees of interest and caution. The show recognises this ability by portraying ‘differences’ (speaking Spanish, being Jewish) as something to be celebrated, not feared. The influence Sesame Street has had on our generation is immeasurable but it’s estimated almost half US pre-school kids have watched it, and the show is broadcast in over 25 countries. Just imagine all those tots from China to Germany, learning today’s letter is T, for tolerance.

From the television show came Sesame Street Live, a touring company now in its fourteenth year. In the new show a surprise birthday party goes wrong when Big Bird runs away mistakenly believing all his friends have forgotten him. It’s aimed at two—nine-year-olds, ‘that age that still likes believing in Santa,’ says director Alison Mellor. ‘Of course the older ones know there’s someone inside the costumes, but the tinies really believe it’s Big Bird.’ His stage costume reflects his larger than lifesize nature; he’s nine-feet tall and weighs four-and- a-half stone. It’s impossible for an actor to work in the costume and vocalise at the same time so the voices of Big Bird and his pals have to be prerecorded. Scripts written by the same CTW team responsible for the television show add to the seamless quality of the transfer from screen to stage. This consistency is due to the characters’ biographies. virtually written in stone, detailing everything from their personality to their star sign.

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Henson created these characters, and since his death, his daughter Cheryl has continued to ensure that their authentic representations include some sort of

, a re moral coding. For example Cookie Monster’s offical biography states that his ‘hunting and scheming shows children a way to approach problems, test out solutions, try various methods and enlist the aid of tools or other people in solving problems’. And you thought he was just plain greedy.

‘Some children will identify with shy Bert; others with the more gregarious Ernie,’ according to Jay Humphrey, director of operations for the tour. ‘The message is that it’s OK to be different: everyone’s special in their own different way.’

The educational element is not just

about attitudes; how many of us leamed'

our alphabets with a ‘zee’ instead of a ‘zed’? ‘When the live show first went out in 1980, people kept coming up to me, saying they learned to count and read from the TV show,’ says Humphrey. Certainly, early surveys indicated that Sesame Street had a remarkable effect on children’s cognitive skills. Education is a big part of Sesame Street and Watch the Birdie manages to incorporate counting and spelling into the storyline. The show gets kids to count along with The Count (a friendly vampire), or join in Cookie Monster’s alphabet songs. ‘But the emphasis is on having fun,’ says Mellor. Hijack a child and go along. (Gabe Stewart)

Where’s The Birdie. The Edinburgh Playhouse. Mon l4—Sat 19 Mar.

ilaln or shine, our at-a-glauce guide will see you through. Events are listed under outdoors or indoors coluruns, and then

divided by city. Kids listings compiled by

afidoors 2% )Cejep?

Activities and Fun

I Mugdock Conservation Volunteers Craigend Visitors Centre, Mugdock Country Park, Craigallian Road, near Milngavie, 956 6100. Sats 12 and 19 Mar. 10am—3pm. Free. Come and muck in at Mugdock.


Activities and Fun

I tor: national tremor Meet at the junction of March Road and Craigcrook Road, YOC leader Damion Willcock, 556 5856. Sun 20 Mar. IOam—noon. Free. Rooks have suffered from the recent (apparently) drier summers. Come and help investigate how many nests are there, and how many are occupied, and you might even catch the odd woodpecker, treecreeper or badger too.

I Aheriady Beach Clean-up Meet at wooden bridge over Peffer Burn, just past Aberlady (from Edinburgh), contact YOC leader Malcolm Porteous, 447 0539. Sat 12 Mar. 10am-12.30pm (extended to 5pm, for those keen to do some birdwatching). Free. A morning of fun and hard work, so come prepared with weliies, old clothes, gloves and waterproofs. Rubbish bags will be provided.


Activities and Fun

I Crafts minions St Mungo Museum. 2 Castle Street, 553 2557. Sat 12 March (making a stained glass window) and Sat 19 March (weaving paper prayer rugs). 2—4pm. Free. 8—12 years. Bookings taken at the enquiry desk until 2pm.

I Youth Puppet Theatre workshops The Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre, 8—10 Balcarres Avenue, Kelvindale, 339 6185. Mon 14 Mar (origins of Oriental shadow puppets) and Mon 21 Mar (European shadow puppetry and its links to animation). 6—7.30pm. £6 per night. 9-11 years.


Activities and Fun

I Post m Event Assembly Rooms, George Street, 529 4445. Sun 20 Mar. IOam—4pm. Free. Activities and Fun for mothers as much as children: while tinies enjoy the creche, mum can wander round the exhibitions and handcraft stalls or

watch the fashion shows. Then there’s the

programmes of traditional/modem African dance and traditional/modem Asian songs. You might even join in the workshop of classical Indian dance, and round it all off by relaxing in the lntemational Cafe.

I Vlouen in Black - Candlelit Vigil The Mound, Princes Street, for further info 556 8704 or 667 4289. Thurs 10 Mar, 6.30-7.30pm. Free. Against a background of protesting drums, mothers, and other women, will express their solidarity with those suffering under militarism, violence or separation in former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Whilst women will wear black or dark colours, white-clad children will symbolise hope for a peaceful future. Bring a candle and holder.

I Circle Dancing Friends Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace. Info 667 9243. Sat 12 Mar. 3.15-4.15pm. £2 (£1).

I lime Workshop Friends Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace. Contact Pat Boyd 225 6485. Sat 12 Mar. 4.30—6pm £2 (£1). The Peace Players’ workshops take as their subject conflict resolution for

young people. Cinema

I m" Flh Centre Saturday idatinees Lothian Road, 228 1638, £1.50. Films start at 11am, doors open 10.30am. 12 Mar The Jetsons (U); 19 Mar Disney’s Homeward Bound (U)

I Eli-house Saturday Iatinees Lothian Road, 228 2688, £2. Films start at 2.30pm. 12 Mar Grease (U) with John Travolta; 19 Mar Tom and Jerry: The Movie (U)


I Where‘s the Birdie? The Playhouse, Greenside Place, 557 2590. Mon l4—Sat 19 Mar: Mon 7pm; Tue 2pm; Wed and Thurs l0.30am and 2pm; Fri 10.30am, 2pm and 7pm; Sat 10.30am. £8.50, £7.50 (£6) Family ticket: four for £24. 2—9 years. See panel.

I m the Butler Wore Filmhouse, Lothian Road, Sat 12 Mar, 44.35pm; Old Paul’s Church, Jeffrey Street, Sun 13 Mar, 1230-1 .05pm. Contact World Development Movement 0968 677325. This account of the politics and history of British trade with ‘third world’ countries tackles complex questions in a zany, witty, fast-moving way. Thought-provoking, and great fun for older children.


Activities and Fun

I llulitlgow locir Wildfowl Count From Edinburgh, come off the M9 and meet at lay-by beside east end of loch. Contact Malcolm Porteous on 447 0539. Sun 13 Mar. 9.15am—noon. Free. Refreshments provided but contributions welcome.

I learning to Draw Birds Watersports Cenue, Strathclyde Country Park, Hamilton, contact YOC leader Graham Hogg 0698 887401. Thurs 17 Mar. 6.15-7. 15pm. Free. Discover your hidden artistic talents.


I The Secret Garden MacRobert Arts CenUe, University of Stirling, 0786 46108l. Sat 19 Mar. 2.30pm. £3.50 (£2.50). Adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel about childhood, friendship and nature.

I Children‘s Cine-a - the Ceidnu Age Summerlee Heritage Trust, West Canal Street, Coatbridge, 0236 431261. Daily. 10am—5pm. Free. This new exhibition offers a nostlagic look at cinema from the 1930s, through World War II, into the 1950s, when TV heralded a decline. Toys, books, projectors and other memorabilia (including a threecfoot-high Mickey Mouse) offer the perfect opportunity for self-respecting Game Boy-carrying types to ask parents or grandparents alike just what it was like in the ‘olden days’.

TheList 11—24 March r994ue