In an all-around, feel-good partnership, local java joint Whirlwind Coffee Company is hosting the Chicago Children’s Theatre next Saturday for a performance of the theater group’s “Red Kite” show. The free event is a multi-sensory, interactive storytelling experience that is perfect for all kids — and for their parents too.
“Wherever we go, we find that families, especially with young children, just absolutely enjoy it,” said Jacqueline Russell, the theatre’s cofounder and executive director.
Head over to Whirlwind, 513 Madison St., bright and early on Aug. 5 to catch the 30-minute show, which will be performed outside in the coffeeshop’s side garden at 9:30 a.m. Professional actors will guide the audience through multi-sensory drama activities. The show encourages participation, collaboration and imagination through the use of puppets, music and movement.
“You’ll want to get up and play,” Russell said of the show.
While fun for all is the goal, the show was designed for children on the autism spectrum as a part of the theater company’s Red Kite Project, an initiative that began in 2007 to give neurodivergent youth the opportunity to experience the joys of theater, without confining them to behaving in the manner expected of audiences, such as sitting still and staying quiet, during traditional stage productions. The project also offers special camps and classes for kids, ages 8-22, allowing them to perform in an environment accommodating their cognitive needs. All Chicago Children’s Theatre productions feature professional actors.
In this show, and other “Red Kite” programs, the risk of sensory overload is minimized by the elimination of bright spotlights, strobe effects, noisy sound effects and loud audio. The show’s half-hour runtime is the considered the right length to keep children engaged.
“It’s one of those pieces that’s super-welcoming and the interaction is enjoyed by everyone,” said Russell.
Whirlwind Coffee customers may already be somewhat familiar with Chicago Children’s Theatre and its Red Kite Project. In December, Whirlwind offered a special “Red Kite” blend. For every bag sold, $3 is donated to the program. It’s also the coffee brewed at the company’s West Loop theater. Whirlwind founder David Silverstein took great care in creating the blend, which is as much about raising awareness of the program as it is about fundraising.
“It really energizes us,” said Silverstein, coffee pun intended. “It’s great to take the passion of what we do with coffee and do something better with it.”
The relationship between Whirlwind and Chicago Children’s Theatre dates back to before the coffee shop even opened. Silverstein’s late wife, Elana, was a professional musical theater actor who performed with the children’s theater and worked in its offices. Silverstein died in 2012 at the age of 29, her death caused by a medical reaction following routine surgery. The couple’s daughter, Maya, was only 1 at the time.
The partnership between Whirlwind and the children’s theater is an opportunity to honor Elana’s memory, while supporting a cause close to her heart. The theater company members say they feel like extended family to.
“We’re always trying to find ways to do some good together and it’s been really nice this year to be able to give back to them because they’ve been so generous to us,” said Silverstein.
Maya Silverstein, now 11, has inherited her mother’s love of theater and her father’s love of coffee. The father-daughter duo share a desire to give back, and while no one in their family is on the spectrum, they believe in the Chicago Children Theatre’s “Red Kite” mission.
“The theater is a really great place and it’s really fun,” said Maya Silverstein. “They’re trying to include other people, so that they can also enjoy the experience.”
The Whirlwind garden is especially conducive for this particular production. It also has a friendly spirit and energy, according to Russell. Being out in the fresh air shows kids the world is full of environments in which they can express themselves. Besides that, the garden is also very pretty.
“It’s kind of been a dream of mine that we could do something there,” she said.
Whirlwind Coffee is the only Oak Park stop on the theater company’s Red Kite Friendship Tour around the Chicago are. All performances are free, but for those living in River Forest and Oak Park, Whirlwind is the most convenient place to catch this show. Plus, it offers a chance for the theater company to get to know those who live in the community.
“We can make some new friends in Oak Park,” said Russell.