One would expect an understanding of kid-friendly performances to come naturally to Tandy Beal. After all, the renowned Santa Cruz dancer spent a decade as artistic director of the Pickle Family Circus, and two more running the Moscow Circus in Japan. She did learn a lot about entertaining kids, but perhaps just as important is what she learned about entertaining their parents.
“When I was directing the Pickles, what always interested me was, ‘How do you make humor for two totally different age groups?’” says Beal. “What I would love when I’d stand at the back of the theater is I’d hear laughs coming at different times—you know, this is the kid laugh, this is the adult laugh, this is everybody’s laugh.”
Though most of us have probably never stopped to think about it, this is exactly what defines all of the best kids’ entertainment, from the Muppets to Pixar movies to the poems of Jack Prelutsky. It has to work on two levels, for kids and adults—but to be truly great, it has to have a third, shared level as well.
Beal has brought the search for that powerful triad to this year’s third annual series of ArtSmart concerts, which kicks off this weekend with Saturday’s performance by Latin percussion ensemble Ka-Hon. It continues March 18 with the Venezuelan Music Project’s Jackeline Rago, and wraps up April 22 with the “Magic Carpet” show that will feature several groups showing off rhythms from around the world. All performances are at 2 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Santa Cruz.
“One of the things I try to look for in the artists that we bring in is that they can speak on two levels, to adults and also to children,” says Beal. It’s led her company to jokingly advertise the shows as “an opportunity for children to bring their parents and their grandparents to something.”
“The family may be thinking they’re doing it for their kids, but actually if the show does it right, then it’s for everybody,” says Beal.
It’s not easy to find talent that’s up to those standards, but it helps that Beal and her husband Jon Scoville have been performing, producing shows and bringing music to area schools for years. For instance, last year’s ArtSmart series featured percussionist Keith Terry, who Beal first hired for the Pickle Family Circus years ago. Terry, in turn, led her to one of this year’s artists, Rago.
“I actually met Jackie when she was performing with Keith, maybe 10, 15 years ago, and I never forgot her. I went, ‘Oh my god!’ She did this incredible thing with a Venezuelan instrument called quitiplas. It’s just wonderful. So people stay on your radar through the years,” she says. “And often the best artists perform with each other. For example, Bryan Dyer, I’ve known him through SoVoSo for years. But then he came in and sang with Linda Tillery’s Cultural Heritage Choir, and he came in and did percussion and singing with Keith Terry a different time.”
The series emphasizes interactivity and education folded into high-energy entertainment. This weekend’s featured group, Ka-Hon, includes musicians from Brazil, Mexico and Peru, and is dedicated to demonstrating the range of world beats that can be played on a simple wooden box known as a cajón. Rago teaches the traditions of Venezuelan music through the Venezuelan Music Project, while also performing in Bay Area groups. And the “Magic Carpet” show will feature groups representing a range of cultures, including the thunderous drums of Watsonville Taiko; Corazon en Flor presenting Baile Folklorico from Jalisco, Mexico; Roots of Brazil; and more. This is an internationalist series for an isolationist era.
“I’ve been trying to bring in world art for the kids,” says Beal. “With where we are in the country right now, it’s all the more important that we see the beauty and value of world cultures other than our own—and what it is that’s making up our own.”
The ArtSmart Family Concerts series begins on Saturday, Feb. 25, with a performance by Ka-Hon at 2 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. Early discounted tickets for all three concerts in the series are still available through tandybeal.com. Full-price tickets per show are $15 adult, $10 children 16 and under.