Your Children & the Theatre

Your Children& The Theatre
Small Disclaimer Before I Begin: “Taking your children to the symphony or theatre is not for the faint of heart. You are likely to get at least one side eye or cheeky comment; but, the rewards of successfully completing this mission are fantastic.” My first memory of going to the theatre was for an opera; I was four years old. My memories of the show are vivid, and those early experience spawned a life-long love affair with the performing arts. Here are a few tips and tricks for helping to foster a love of the theatre with your children and actually taking them to see a performance.

Avoid nap-times and “witching hours.” I know not every child has a precise schedule by which you can calculate crankiness. Can we pause for a moment to celebrate how awesome that would be?! Parenting would be infinitely easier if we could also literally schedule in growth spurts. Realistically, though, we all have a pretty keen awareness of our children’s rhythm. So make sure you look for a performance that is happening on a day and at a time that fits in with your child and family rhythms. Seriously, build your day around the show.

Find your theatre. It is important to check for age restrictions before you buy tickets. Although I find it horrifying, I have seen theatres always require that children to be as old as eight before selling them a ticket; other times, there may be age restrictions based on content. Before you say it: I know there are tons of awesome programs that are designed for small children. While I love those as well, in my opinion, they don’t necessarily simulate a theatre experience. They often involve a lot of movement, breaks, and audience participation. This is all fantastic, but those programs are their own uniquely awesome thing and an article in and of themselves. My children’s first theatrical experience was at the Times Union Center, and we have always had a terrific time. In Jacksonville, we have a number of theatres to consider. Some of the local theatres I have enjoyed include: The Alhambra, The Florida Theatre, The Times Union, The Ritz, The Wilson Center, Thrasher-Horne Center

Yes, They were
Once you have found the right theatre, find the best show. I started my children with the symphony. The primary reason was that I did not have to address or think about plot lines. Remember how I told you I was four when I saw my first opera? Well, my mom still recounts to me how she was reasonably sure that I would enjoy the show, but not fully understand the story line until I turned to her and asked if the butterfly represented the old man dying and going to heaven. She was both delighted and a bit horrified at the conversation that little gem opened up. Moral of that story? Expect your kids to understand more than you expect them to. I recommend starting with music they already know or that you have time to introduce them to before the show. For this reason, I recommend trying a Pops concert. For example, this October, the symphony is doing a collection of Disney’s Broadway Hits as a show. Even if you and your children aren’t yet familiar with the tunes, they are readily available and easy to access.

Practice sitting still and listening to the music. Once you know what show you are going to see, find the music and practice sitting still and listening. This can be really fun to do just before bedtime or at the breakfast table. If you have selected something like Hansel and Gretel or Classical Corner Stones, you will have an easy time playing one of my favorite games, “What Instrument Do You Hear?” One of our favorite books is “Welcome to the Symphony” by Carolyn Sloan. It includes sound buttons that introduce children to the different contribution each instrument makes.

Pick your seat wisely. If you are heading to the symphony or a theatrical performance, I recommend sitting near an aisle and exit door for obvious reasons. If your child needs to leave, you want to be able to do so quickly without disturbing other patrons. My go-to spot when my children were starting out with shows was the balcony.

Don’t bring distracting fidgets. We all have a “mom bag” of tricks to help our children through various activities. Remember not to bring anything that lights up, makes sound, or is otherwise disturbing to the performance. The goal is to connect to the music and experience the theatre, not simply to get through it. If you need to take a break prior to intermission, take it. Just remember that, when you leave the auditorium, you will likely not be able to reenter until a pre-determined time during the show. Pack items that can be used outside while waiting to re-enter as well as inside the theatre. My fidget bag for my littles includes a small coloring journal and a single colored pencil or crayon.
the woods
Taking your children to the theatre is a magical experience. Like anything worth doing you are likely to face a challenge or two. I encourage you not to be intimidated. With a little bit of prior planning, some tenacity, and flexibility you can share a cultural experience with your child that is unmatched by any other.

Stacy Mcdonald-Taylor
Stacy, a former health care program manager, came to the first coast by way of Charlotte, NC. Passionate for community and creative arts. Stacy has worked with families and educators through Parent Education & Outreach Programs. Since welcoming the births of her and her husband’s two delightful, energetic sons, she has worked from home, always seeking to find new ways to provide a joy-filled, creative environment, nurturing a love for people, learning, nature, and healthy, natural/organic foods. Stacy shares tidbits of her “life learnings” on her blog, Wasting Nothing


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