Theater is a fantastic way to introduce children to live performance. You can travel to another time and place through storytelling, sing along with the actors during musical numbers, or explore a world of new emotions with your child. As Diana Byer, founder and artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet
, describes it, kids should feel that “it’s a special activity that touches their soul.” But no matter how excited you are to share this experience with your family, live performances can be a bit overwhelming for kids. We spoke with some local experts for some advice on your child’s first night at the theater.
Parents shouldn’t worry about waiting until the kids are “old enough” to enjoy a performance. In fact, the sooner you bring them to a show, the more likely they’ll develop a love for it! You know your kids best, but one way to determine whether they’re ready is to see how they act in a restaurant environment. According to Literally Alive Children’s Theatre Artistic Director Brenda Bell, if children can sit still and manage not to throw any food, they’re probably ready for the theater. Starting with a smaller production before spending the big bucks at Broadway is a good idea for young children, suggests Amy Fiore, managing director of TADA! Youth Theater.
Another tip: The better prepared your child is, the better the experience. So make sure to tell your son or daughter everything you know ahead of time—the lights will turn down, the set will change, the actors wear costumes, particulars about the size of the room or audience, and so on. Don’t forget to discuss the differences between the stage and the TV screen, especially the fact that actors can hear the audience (and potentially be distracted) if you talk. If you have any concerns before the show, call the theater beforehand.
At the theater, have your kids direct any questions to the ushers and let them present their own ticket so they can feel like a part of the experience. Plus, many theaters offer pre- or post-show programs to enhance the experience. Kids can meet the actors, write reviews, or even learn dance moves. Finally, Courtney Boddie, the director of education at the New Victory Theater
, also recommends family activities at home before the production to help build excitement. Try researching the play, reading the book (if the show is based off of literature), listening to the music, and watching related videos. But it’s also a fine idea to show up without any preconceptions and simply enjoy it as a family!
To read our 2013 Theaters Guide, click here.