(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 2001)
Everyone was paying attention to the pie-throwing contest. The set was made to look like a castle, and three heads stuck out as targets, but all the children aimed at the one in the middle, Hartford Children’s Theatre teacher Jason Shusterman.

“You hit him, you get a prize!” shouted student Jennifer Labbe, who handed out prizes of candy and plastic jewelry to the lucky winners. Jennifer’s twin sister, Melissa Labbe, was the one handing out the pies. Well, not pies exactly, but plates full of whipped cream.
It wasn’t easy to ignore the enthusiasm that surrounded the student-based carnival the Children’s Theatre held Thursday. Laura Thompson and other students went up and down the block with painted faces and billboards announcing the event to passersby. One read: “Don’t be shy.”
You couldn’t blame the kids for their enthusiasm. Once at the carnival, held at the organization’s parking lot at 360 Farmington Ave., visitors found themselves surrounded by miniature booths such as The Freak Show, The Java Toss, and of course, the Chuck-A-Pie Castle.
In the Freak Show, there were the characters Flexo Girl, who could do any type of stretch, the Bearded Lady and the Psycho Clown, who constantly insisted on being called a Moo Moo Clown.
The Java Toss was one of the most creative booths. Student Calum Rennie explained, “We were brainstorming on what could be a cool game about coffee, and we came up with the Java Toss. What you do is pick up coffee beans and try to toss them into buckets.”
The carnival was the Children’s Theatre’s way of giving back to the community. Having moved to Farmington Avenue about a year and a half ago, it is still in the early stages of developing its property. “We’re making this area into a campus, said Dulcie Giadone, theater president and director of Organized Parents Make a Difference. “This is the first step.”
Eric Amburg, the group’s interim artistic director, came up with the idea. “I though the carnival would be great to give back to the community. Some of the people thought I was crazy, but the more we got into it, the more the idea got more appealing.”

By throwing the carnival for the Hartford community, the Children’s Theatre also made itself eligible to enter the Fleet All- Stars contest, a program started in 1996 by Fleet Bank to inspire volunteerism in neighborhood kids.

It promotes the idea that kids can use their free time during the summer for positive work. This contest is also meant to recognize community service work that is already being done, and it encourages adults and kids to do service work that wouldn’t be as appealing without the incentive that All-Stars offers.

Any group of children aged 5 to 18, whether part of a formal group such as the Boys and Girls Club or Girl Scouts, or an informal neighborhood association, can enter the All-Stars contest.The only limitation is that a significant amount of the work must take place between April 1 and Aug. 31.
Several prizes will be awarded in the fall to groups showing the greatest creativity, teamwork and volunteerism, including a first- place $15,000 prize, a second-place $7,500 prize and eight third- place $3,000 prizes.
Groups submitting receipts with their entries can also be reimbursed $100 for project-related costs.
The first-prize winner is honored each year during a dinner reception hosted by Fleet. The award will be presented by one of the All-Stars participating athletes — the New England Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe, Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, New York Yankee Derek Jeter, Boston Red Sox players Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, Washington Freedom’s Mia Hamm or New York Liberty’s Rebecca Lobo.
“It brought two different groups together, Organized Parents Make A Difference and Hartford Children’s Theatre,” said Giadone. “Eric is already talking about next year’s carnival.”
For information on the Fleet All-Stars program, call Nell Debevoise at 860-986-5650.