Allison Galbraith already picked out the dress she is going to wear to the opening night of this fall's theater season -- a white lacy one.
At age 7, going to the theater is nothing unusual for Allison. In fact, this will be her sixth season attending performances of Harford Community College's (HCC) Young Persons' Matinee, which premiered in 1985.
This Friday Allison will be watching "Bounce and Ooo La La's Vaudeville Theater." Among other shows on tap for the fall season, which runs from September through November, are "Aesop's Fables," "Harriet's Happiest Halloween," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "The Nutcracker."
Shows are offered at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Fridays, and except for "The Nutcracker" and "Harriet's Happiest Halloween," which are presented by the Harford Dance Theater, the performances are staged by out-of-town companies.
Geared to introducing children to the arts, the matinee series was started by Marie Hopkins, HCC's cultural events coordinator for the past 17 years.
"Each season we offer programs from a variety of the performing arts -- dance, music, puppets, theater, vaudeville," said Hopkins. "And we try to choose programs that appeal to children, ages 3 and older, and adults alike."
Allison is usually escorted to the shows by her father, Jim Galbraith.
They try to attend all five programs offered each college semester.
Tickets to the shows are available now at the college theater box office, located in the Chesapeake Center. Hopkins advises getting them well in advance because they sell out quickly. The cost is $3 a person and the programs are financially supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Harford County Government through the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board.
Though a success each season, the matinee series almost wasn't started because Hopkins initially had no plans to offer children's shows at the college. But when she found adults prepared to take children to a full-length performance of the "Nutcracker," she decided to offer a shorter, one-hour version for children.
"I knew children wouldn't be able to sit through the full-length performance," she said. "I was skeptical at first about the children's performance, but it sold out immediately. And when we had to add a second show, I realized there was an opportunity to present shows for children as well as adults."
The one-hour "Nutcracker" performance has been a staple item on the annual theater bill and children always look forward to attending the festive event.
"It's one of my favorite shows," said Stephanie Moler, 7, who has been attending the matinee series since she was 3 years old. "My favorite part is the battle scene where the Nutcracker tries to fight the King of the Rats," she added.
Allison, however, likes the scene in which all the toys in the nursery come alive.
Caitlin Moler, Stephanie's 6-year-old sister, also enjoys going to the "Nutcracker" "because we get to dress up in our Christmas dresses and the whole family goes."
"We all enjoy going to the shows," said Charlotte Molar, Stephanie and Caitlin's mother. "The program brings such diversity of arts to the children. And it's affordable as well as educational," she said. "The matinee series piques the children's interest for further endeavors in the arts."
"Harriet's Happiest Halloween" is another favorite show the children look forward to attending.
Theater-goers are invited to come in costume and celebrate Halloween with Harriet.
Allison remembers wearing a cat costume last year; she was a panda bear the previous year.
"And I like it because it's scary and funny," said Stephanie.
Although "Harriet's Happiest Halloween" is offered each year, the shows are always different, said Hopkins. For example, this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be part of the program," she added.