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Friday, November 18, 2011

Storybook Characters Come Alive at Enchanted Castle

Storybook Characters Come Alive at Enchanted Castle
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – So authentic were their costumes and so rehearsed were their presentations that you would think that the actors portraying the various characters had stepped right from pages of the storybooks themselves.

The characters were but one part of the magical experience created at Burr Homestead late Friday afternoon as the 18th Annual Enchanted Castle opened. The event will be conducted almost daily through Sunday, October 30, with varying hours of operation.

Themed rooms include Cinderella, Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean. There is also a BOOtique featuring items for sale including food, Halloween-oriented accessories and gift baskets. All merchandise was donated by area businesses and individuals and proceeds will benefit the Ahlbin Centers for Rehabilitation Medicine at Bridgeport Hospital.

“This is one of the biggest fundraisers of the year and the most highly anticipated,” said Lauren Condron, an occupational therapist at Ahlbin Centers, who was dressed as a queen and seated on the porch of the Homestead beside the front entry. “The kids love it and staff and former patients all come.”

Condron added that, this year, funding will help the Center’s FitKids program, which promotes healthy eating and activities to children.

Since its inception, the Enchanted Castle has always supported the Ahlbin Center, said Shaun Amberg, President of the Ahlbin Centers Auxiliary and a co-chair of the event. “It’s funny, I bumped into two of the original creators yesterday,” she said. “They say no one calls them anymore to be characters!”

Amberg added that the Castle was designed to be non-threatening, unlike many other Halloween tour experiences that focus on spooky and scary themes. As such, the experience appeals to families of children ages 2 to 9.

On average, the event raises $25,000 to $30,000, and has become a community tradition. “There was one year – 1997 -- we didn’t do it due to a lack of volunteers,” said Amberg. “People missed it, so we brought it back the following year.”

A strong draw is the authenticity of the sets. For example, the Wizard of Oz room features a section of real wooden fence, sunflowers, flying monkeys and a yellow brick road pathway.

Characters were played primarily by teenaged students, like Elizabeth Reidy, an 8th grader at Tomlinson Middle School playing Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean. “I printed out my script two weeks ago and have been practicing my lines, especially in front of my sister,” she said. “I was a little nervous at first, but it’s fun. I’m doing this as a community service project.”

Nick Zeleny, playing the featured pirate Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, said he had done the character last year. “I’m one of the few male characters.”

For Zeleny, the event was a family affair. His mother typeset the event program and he and his dad helped put the whole façade up.

All the hard work did not go unappreciated. “This is a great community event and one of the reasons we live in Fairfield,” said Beth Hansel, visiting with her 3-year-old daughter Ella. “She’s my fourth child. I’ve taken them all here. It’s her time. We were here early and got a private tour and chance to speak with the characters. It was like being at Disney.”

The Enchanted Castle is located in the Burr Homestead, 739 Old Post Road, Fairfield. Hours of Operation: Saturday, October 22 and Sunday October 23: 10am – 5pm; Wed – Fri. Oct. 26-28: 4pm – 7pm; Sat. Oct. 29 and Sun. Oct. 30: 10am – 5pm. Fully accessible for children of all abilities, ages 2 to 9 with an adult.

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