Fun with Bilbo catchers, Spycraft … and chores

Mr. Hallam's Traveling Players perform Scapin,

Mr. Hallam’s Traveling Players perform Scapin,

By Ben Swenson

The summer’s winding down, but there’s still time for kid stuff. Here are five ideas that will let you and your children steal some fun in the Revolutionary City before school starts.

The Benjamin Powell House and the James Geddy House

The Revolutionary City is full of sights to behold: a mob of citizens gathering to storm the Governor’s Palace; a company of militiamen drilling on Market Square; a group of children eager to do chores.

No, really. Chores.

As in, wipe the windowpanes and make the bed. Cleaning up 18th -entury style is one of the many hands-on activities for children at the Benjamin Powell House and the James Geddy House. Their work might include tossing so-called “strewing herbs” about the room, a fragrant flourish foreign to 21st-century sensibilities (but an effective way to mask the pungent punch of the vinegar they used to clean the windows).

And old chores aren’t the only opportunities here that take kids back 2 ½  centuries. They can compose correspondence supporting the fight for independence and play games like Mancala, a count-and-capture board game, giving them a firsthand look at how they would have occupied themselves long before screen time was even a concept.

The William Pitt Shop

Often kids become wrapped up in the fun they have at the Powell and Geddy houses and they’re eager to share it with their friends back home. As luck would have it, they don’t have to go too far to find the accoutrements that make their time travel portable.

The William Pitt Shop, a boutique for children on Duke of Gloucester Street, offers everything families need to enhance their 18th-century experience.

Want a gown and straw hat, or breeches and a tricorn? Those are here.

So are musical instruments, from fifes to drumsticks, and other odds and ends, such as flint and steel strikers, that would have been familiar to colonial children.

And, of course, there are those games that bring so many kids to the William Pitt Shop in the first place. Who needs a tablet when you have a bilbo catcher to keep the kids occupied during the long ride back to the 21st century?

Don’t know what a Bilbo catcher is? Now you really need to come.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg

If the prospect of shepherding your flock through esteemed halls that contain world-famous artwork makes you nervous, consider this: The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg keep a schedule of family-friendly programs fit for even the most fidgety youngsters.

Think of these offerings more like scavenger hunts and participatory classes rather than somber strolls through quiet galleries. You’ll be surprised at all the hidden treasures museum staff will help your family discover in guided tours through the collections.

Kids in Art  showcases all the children who show up in creative works and The Artful Animal does the same with critters.

Perhaps your young ones want to compare their sense of style with The “Sweetest” Fashions the museums display. Maybe they’d like cracking an 18th-century code with Spycraft or trying their hand at artistic techniques in Create! Whatever their interests, Colonial Williamsburg’s museums give kids the chance to satisfy their tactile urges without putting the priceless artifacts in any jeopardy.

Colonial Dance  

After all those long hours agitating for the American cause or finding a trade where Junior will spend the next seven years, why not unwind 18th-century style?

You won’t be kicking off your shoes, though; they’ll come in handy as you glide gracefully around Raleigh Tavern’s Apollo Room. In Pleasures of the Dance, longtime Colonial Williamsburg dance mistress Marcy Wright begins each class by teaching the formal courtesies (what we’ve shortened today to “curtsies”) before stepping into a couple popular styles of country dance.

This program appeals to young and old alike, as was the case long ago.

“No matter what was going on in the world around them, dances were the most important social events,” says Jane Hanson, a supervisor for music and dance.

Think the kids would rather just watch before venturing out? No problem. At The Dancing School, junior interpreters demonstrate a few contemporary styles while the onlookers muster the courage to hit the dance floor.

Evening Programs with Mr. Hallam’s Traveling Players

Don’t mind that raucous gaggle of colonial Americans bellowing their way down Duke of Gloucester Street. That’s only Mr. Hallam’s Traveling Players marching to another hilarious evening performance at Charlton Stage.

Combat weapons normally do not make for light-hearted entertainment, but in the hands of this merry troupe, rapiers, quarterstave and muskets will have the whole family rolling with laughter.

See what happens when a courier must deliver an important message across a battlefield thick with bumbling enemy soldiers. Watch the tension rise as two basket sellers stake out territory on the same Williamsburg street.

Sword Play, which consists of about a dozen short sketches, is what happens when slapstick comedy and the 18th century come together.

And after you’ve chuckled your way through this performance, there’s more. Be sure to check out Mr. Hallam’s Traveling Players as their antics light up the stage for the 17th-century comedy Scapin.

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