East Bay natives know the symbolic power of the "Magic Key." The iconic crown-topped silhouettes of these souvenir keys to Children's Fairyland in Oakland — which activate the signature Talking Storybook Boxes in the park by Lake Merritt — are now symbols on t-shirts and worn as necklace pendants like a secret code.
"It's one of my favorite 'if you know you know' kind of East Bay logos," says Tony Award winner and Oakland native Daveed Diggs. "You can go anywhere in the world and show somebody that key and they know exactly what that means."
On Saturday, September 26, Diggs and his co-writer, co-producer and co-star in the Oakland-shot 2018 film Blindspotting, Rafael Casal, are hosting an online fundraiser for this beloved children's theme park and institution. Like many nonprofits during the pandemic, Fairyland has run into some financial stress — just as the park is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. And Saturday's event is serving as a celebration, a plea for donations, and a launch event for a new digital library of videos called "Celebrity Storytime."
"We got word that Fairyland needed some help," says Casal, an East Bay native himself. "I had been looking forward when COVID was over to bringing my niece to Fairyland, and an East Bay future without Fairyland was unacceptable to me. So I posted to their Instagram account and asked if there was anything I or Daveed could do to help."
Saturday's event is the result of that conversation — an effort to "get everyone's eyes on the institution," as Casal says, "to let them know that it needs community support and community excitement to give it its future."
Diggs tells SFist that he has a ton of childhood memories of going to Fairyland.
"It was a pretty big part of my childhood," he says. "What's wild is how all of the things you used to play on are still there. Like I remember the shoe and the dragon and the little boats and the pirate ship, which I loved, and the little underground place where you face the Mad Hatter down in the Alice in Wonderland-themed area."
Diggs also remembers going to puppet shows at Fairyland's Storybook Puppet Theater — believed to be the oldest continually operating puppet theater in the U.S.
"It felt magic and it felt special," Diggs says. "I still have never been to Disneyland. Growing up, my family could never afford that and I still have never been in my life. But Fairyland was our version of that kind of magic... and we could go all the time."
Built in 1950, Fairyland famously helped inspire Walt Disney in what would become Disneyland — he was known to have toured multiple amusement parks around the country, including Fairyland, as he conceived his own park. And Muppets collaborator Frank Oz, who created the characters of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Cookie Monster, notably got his start as a puppeteer there.
"Celebrity Storytime," the new digital library, will feature inclusive children's books that reflect Oakland's diversity being read by famous people. And participants in Saturday's free online event — donations encouraged — will get a sneak peak at the videos.
Also joining Diggs and Casal will be Boots Riley, the rapper, actor and screenwriter behind Sorry to Bother You, which was also based in Oakland; Misty Copeland, the first Black woman ever promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre; and local comedian and radio host W. Kamau Bell. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf will be taking part as well.
The fun starts Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
P.S. Expect to potentially see Fairyland make it into the storyline of Blindspotting the TV series, which just got the green light on Starz two weeks ago with Casal as showrunner. "It'd be hard to avoid at a certain point," Casal says. "I think the goal is to continue to cement Fairyland in the story of the East Bay and Oakland specifically. And obviously we're making a show about the area, so there's some inevitability there."