Forecast calls for family fun at Orpheum

CHAMPAIGN – You and I may not look at an old theater auditorium and see a sledding hill – and that's probably why we don't run a children's museum.

The Orpheum Children's Science Museum is transforming its auditorium into an indoor "Snow Globe" for the traditional post-parade festivities after the holiday Parade of Lights Saturday evening in downtown Champaign.

Whether there's snow outside or not, your kids will be able to take a sledding run, throw "snowballs," and even go ice-fishing in the theater's orchestra pit. Artificial snow-making machines, special lighting and decorated holiday trees will turn the theater into a winter wonderland, said museum Director Sonya Darter.

Elsewhere in the museum, families can make a virtual "snowflake" on the museum's SMART Board, try out the new "uDraw" GameTablet for Wii, make holiday crafts on the mezzanine, warm up with a children's West African drumming troupe, watch a children's Christmas play, and enjoy free hot chocolate and cookies.

The celebration will start immediately after the 6 p.m. parade and run until 9:30 p.m. Admission is free for families, but there's a $3 per-person charge to the theater Snow Globe (or $10 for four).

It's the first time the partly renovated theater has been used for the event, and it should ease crowding a bit, said museum Director Sonya Darter. More than 100 people usually attend the After-the-Parade of Lights Celebration, a number that grows every year, she said.

The theme for this year's parade is "Sounds of the Season," and parade emcee Diane Ducey of WHMS radio will play holiday songs afterward inside the theater Snow Globe.

The "sleds" for the theater hill are really Plasma Cars, sort of fancy scooters with steering wheels. They're fairly easy to maneuver, according to Darter, who took several test runs last week. Her children advised her on the best route down the "hill."

"We did this for three hours last night," she said Tuesday.

The path makes a giant S down the floor of the auditorium, winding around artificial Christmas trees and mounds of "snow" made out of cardboard boxes covered with paint, sheet, powdered snow and whatever else she can find.

A flatter kiddie sledding path will be set up along the front of the auditorium for younger children who may be intimidated by the slope, she said.

The snow machines will actually blow bubbles, but they look like snow, Darter said, especially when they're paired with lighting that will project images of snow on the auditorium's sky-blue ceiling.

Participants in the snowball-throwing will use Styrofoam craft balls aimed at targets along one side of the auditorium.

For the ice-fishing, children will try to throw their line into holes cut into blue tarps covering the orchestra pit to serve as the water/ice. If they succeed, someone underneath the tarp will attach a candy cane, holiday puzzle or other small prize to their line.

For the other events:

– The museum's Castle exhibit will host a theatrical storytelling of an original Christmas tale, "Within the Cloak of Christmas," written by a local author and performed for the first time at this event. Featuring two young actors from "Class Act" and local musicians, it's the story of one child's brush with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Songwriters David Joost and Terrin Krantz collaborated with musician Terry Wathen on the story.

– The West African drummers will be led by Bolokada Conde, a native of Guinea, master folklorist and internationally known musician who is currently teaching West African drumming at the University of Illinois. He is the premiere soloist for Les Percussions de Guinee, touring internationally through Europe and the United States, and was musical director and lead soloist for the international Ballet Warraba. He is also featured in the IMAX movie, "Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey."

– The newly launched uDraw GameTablet builds on the wireless function of the Wii Remote controller, tracking a user's drawing movements with an interactive pen to make art on the television screen. Along with uDraw Studio, the tablet allows children to create works of art without the cleanup hassle, according to the maker, THQ, parent company of Champaign-based Volition.

Volition and THQ are sponsoring a separate "U-Draw Family Event" from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Orpheum, free with regular museum admission. Professional video game artists will help participants use the tools to paint, draw and color everything from simple doodles to intricate masterpieces. You can also register to win two free Wii and UDraw GameTablets, to be raffled off at 8 p.m. during the post-parade celebration.

To preview the technology, visit http://www.worldofudraw.com.

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