The lazy days of summer sound alluring, particularly after a hectic spring. But if summer’s pace crawls for too long, the season drags on like a prison sentence.

To help fend off the summer doldrums, we’ve compiled our annual Advocate summer entertainment guide. These suggestions are sure to liven up a summer day without draining your pocketbook dry.

Shakespeare Festival of Dallas

Some of the best things in life are free – such as Shakespeare in the Park. This year’s Shakespeare Festival features “Hamlet” and “As You Like It,” performed by some of the country’s best Shakespearean actors. Productions take place in a pastoral setting, nestled in our own Samuell Park.

“Shakespeare was intended for everyone,” says Veletta Lill, a Shakespeare Society board member and Hollywood/Santa Monica resident.

The festival is free to ensure Shakespeare’s accessibility to everyone, she says. Dallas is one of the few cities in the nation still offering free Shakespeare productions.

The Shakespeare Festival attracts throngs of picnickers who come early with blankets, food, wine and even children. “Shakespeare is a family thing,” says Lill, noting that her six-year-old son Stewart loves it.

“He’s been going since he was six months old.”

This year’s festival amenities include food and drink concessions as well as new, permanent bathroom facilities. Gates open to the public at 7:30 p.m., at 7 p.m. for Shakespeare Society members.

Performances begin at 8:15 p.m. “As You Like It” runs June 15-July 2, and “Hamlet” runs July 13-23. No shows are scheduled on Mondays.

Petit Gourmet Cooking Camps

This camp doesn’t go outdoors for fun – it doesn’t even leave the kitchen. Caterer and cooking instructor Martha Kean offers cooking camps in her Lake Highlands home for children ages 8-15.

Kids bring only a genuine interest in cooking – Kean supplies everything else, even lunch. Weekly sessions are Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Groups are kept small to offer each child a hands-on experience. The 10 sessions offer instruction in cooking food from pizza to desserts. Cost is $60 per session. For each session, Kean offers one scholarship to a deserving student.

This year, Kean added a new class called Simple Suppers, for ages 10 and up.

“I noticed a lot of kids who came to my classes were actually responsible for the family meals,” she says. “This class helps them build their repertoire of simple recipes that are safe to make.”

Call 348-7567 for more information.

Free Juggling Workshops

If you’ve ever wanted to learn the whimsical art of juggling, pop into the Dallas Pump House at White Rock Lake each Wednesday, from 7-10 p.m. when Dallas jugglers and wannabe’s convene at the historic building for a jam session.

The building is an indoor juggler’s dream, with 40-foot-tall ceilings and plenty of space for passing to partners. Novices need not be intimidated. Seasoned jugglers offer free instructions to anyone who looks like they’re having trouble with a trick – whether it’s basic or advanced.

“It takes a few sessions for a newcomer to feel comfortable,” says Logan Daffron, who is considered one of the juggling gurus of Dallas. He suggests beginners start with scarves, which are easy to juggle, since they fall slowly.

Even if you don’t want to juggle, it’s a treat to come and watch. For more information, call Daffron at 750-JUGL.

Hot Latin Nights

Question: What’s better than eating Mexican food?

Answer: Eating Mexican food while listening to live salsa music and watching beautiful people dance the night away.

You can have it all at Monica’s Aca y Alla in Deep Ellum, 2914 Main, every Sunday night. The band plays from 9-11:30 p.m., but for the best table, come early and enjoy dinner or cocktails. The evening is a bargain, with only a $3 cover charge and reasonably priced food (you don’t have to eat to sit).

It’s fun to watch the regulars at Monica’s. They swivel their hips without twitching a torso muscle as if it were a natural reflex. The dancers range from young, Deep Ellum habitues, to the over-50-crowd, with lots of 30-somethings in between.

Once you feel the band’s Latin rhythms, an irresistable urge to dance may seize you. To learn some steps, sign up for Romero Gonzalez’s Latin dance class at I Dance 2, located at Mockingbird and Greenville, 827-3888. If you don’t have a willing partner, there’s no need to deprive yourself. The class welcomes singles as well as couples.

I Dance 2 also offers ballroom, country, swing, and disco dance instruction (group or private) at reasonable rates.

Kids Night Out

Finding a sitter is often an obstacle to a parent’s night out. The East Dallas YMCA offers a simple solution: a kid’s night out at their facility, 6220 Worth.

Two weekend nights a month (generally Fridays), from 6 to 11 p.m., the YMCA offers child care, dinner and age appropriate activities for children ages 6 months to 12 years. Activities include swimming, games, G-rated movies, crafts and free-play.

It’s all supervised by YMCA staff. Cost is $10 per child for members, $12 for non-members. Discounts are available for more than one child. Call 824-8139 for the summer schedule.

Space is limited, so pay in advance to guarantee your night out.

Indoor Rock Climbing

If you think summer is too hot for rock climbing, head to an indoor rock climbing gym. Neighborhood resident Angela Pauken climbs in air-conditioned comfort at Stone Work Indoor Climbing Gym in Carrollton.

It’s the world’s tallest indoor climbing facility, located in the old grain silos on I-35 and Beltline (the rainbow painted landmark, made infamous by Robert Tilton’s “Word of Faith”). The gym is owned and operated by longtime Lakewood residents Karen and Russell Rand.

The gym challenges everyone from beginners to advanced climbers with simulated rock formations. Climbs vary from easy low angles to tougher vertical or gravity-defying ceiling climbs (it sounds impossible, but it can be done). The highest climb is 110 feet.

“Any age can climb, whether you have experience or not,” says Karen, noting that she has seen pre-schoolers climb with their parents. She says all first-time visitors must take a free introductory class before climbing in the gym. Kids under 18 must have a parent sign the gym’s parental consent form before climbing. The safety-conscious won’t worry here; everyone wears a rope and climbs with a partner.

If you come to the gym alone, that’s OK – there are experienced staffers on hand who will serve as your climbing buddy.

“Most people do top rope climbing, the safest, most basic type,” Karen says. The more advanced climbing – lead climbing – requires either previous outdoor climbing experience or certification through the gym’s lead climbing class and exam.

Climbing rates are reasonable – an $8 entry fee entitles you to climb as long as you’d like. Equipment (including optional climbing shoes) can be rented for $5 a day. That means that for less than $15, tax included, you can climb with all the right gear all day long – not bad for a full day’s adventure.

Stone Works Climbing Gym is located at 1003 Fourth Avenue in Carrollton, 323-1047. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Kids’ Reading Program

The Lakewood Library makes reading extra rewarding with its summer reading program for children.

Kids read books of their choice (or parents read to pre-schoolers) and log their reading time. The more they read, the more awards they earn. Just one hour of reading garners kids a book bag, bookmark, drinking cup and 20 percent discount coupon for Half-Price Books.

As the hours accumulate, the perks keep coming – giant coloring posters and tickets for two to Dallas Children’s Theater’s production of “Cinderella,” to name a few.

The Dallas Children’s Theater will also lead two short workshops for ages 6 and up at the library. A Sherlock Holmes-themed dramatic workshop is slated June 8, and a costume- and prop-making workshop will be held June 22. Call 670-1376 to register for the reading program and workshops.

In-Line Skating

Most of us associate skating with childhood. But these days, even adults are joining the in-line skating craze.

Neighborhood resident Sue Wasiliewski acquired her first pair of Rollerblades at 40. She also signed up for a Fun Ed rollerblading course to get over the first-time jitters.

But you don’t need a course to get started – just the right equipment, the right smooth spot, and the right amount of nerve.

Finding the equipment isn’t hard. Many specialty stores such as Sun & Ski Sports in Old Town, 5500 Greenville, 696-2696, will rent skates and safety equipment – elbow, wrist and knee guards – for $10 a day. A $150 security deposit is required. If you want to invest in skates of your own, prices start at $100.

Finding the right spot to skate can be tricky. Smooth surfaces are preferable, but logical places such as parking garages and parking lots are off-limits to skaters.

The best spot in town is also the largest – historic Fair Park. Skaters who roll through the fairgrounds are rewarded not only with a smooth ride, but also a tour of some wonderful deco architecture. Nature lovers prefer White Rock Trail, which can be accessed at several spots, including the park at Royal and Greenville.

Hey Kids – Tennis Anyone?

You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for children’s tennis lessons. Area recreation centers, in conjunction with the National Junior Tennis League, offer free summer tennis programs beginning June 5.

Kids learn the basics of serves and swings and can compete in weekly tournaments. The program is open to children ages 8-16 at Samuell Grand Tennis Center, and ages 7-18 at Ridgewood.

Practice and instruction sessions are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10:30 a.m. at Samuell; Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9-10 a.m. at Ridgewood.

Tournament dates and times vary. Call now to register at Samuell Grand Recreation Center, 670-1383, or Ridgewood Recreation Center, 670-7115.

Recreation Centers

The youth tennis programs of local recreation centers are just the tip of the iceberg. Area centers offer everything from camp for kids to dominos for seniors. The programs of three neighborhood centers are too numerous to list, but here are some examples of what you’ll find. Call for dates, times, and prices.

Samuell Grand Recreation Center,

6200 E. Grand, 670-1383

  • Dance America features basics of jazz with emphasis on modern dance and street dance for ages 4-14. Cost is $4 for a three-hour class.
  • Karate for ages 4-16. Cost is $4 for a three-hour class.
  • Sports camps for children ages 7-12 teach the basics of street hockey, basketball and soccer.
  • 42 Club Dominos, dominos and bridge are offered Thursday afternoons for senior citizens.

Ridgewood Recreation Center,

6818 Fisher, 670-7115

  • Street Stars Hockey is a free program developed with the help of the Dallas Stars. Kids learn the basics of old-fashioned street hockey. The group meets once a week, year round, and plays against other recreation center teams.
  • National Junior Golf Program offers free introductory golf classes for ages 8 and up. Kids learn the basic swing in a class that culminates with a field trip to Tennison-Memorial Golf Course.
  • Bridge, 42 dominos, exercise classes, arts and crafts, and ceramics are offered for senior citizens.

Lake Highlands North Recreation Center

9940 White Rock Trail, 670-7793

  • Arts and Crafts Camp for ages 6-12
  • Cheerleading Camp for ages 8-14
  • Computer Camp for ages 7-13
  • Dance Classes for ages 4-10
  • Gymnastics Camp for ages 4 and up
  • Soccer Camp for ages 5-12
  • Senior programs vary from month to month. Luncheons are offered the second Monday of the month.