Stage Delight: 2016-2017 Ultimate Guide To Theater & Live Performance

New York City’s pre-eminence as a center for the performing arts extends all the way down to its youngest audiences. For the Theater & Live Performance section of this year’s Ultimate Guide, we caught up with some of the city’s best kid-friendly venues and companies to learn more about their missions and what audiences have to look forward to in the upcoming season.

little orchestra society by Rachael Shane low res
The Little Orchestra Society; photo by Rachel Shane

Mission: “Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) creates visionary programs that embody Carnegie Hall’s commitment to music education, playing a central role in fulfilling the Hall’s mission of making great music accessible to as many people as possible,” says Sarah Johnson, the Weill Music Institute director. “With unparalleled access to the world’s greatest artists, WMI’s programs are designed to inspire audiences of all ages, nurture tomorrow’s musical talent, and harness the power of music to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
Highlights for the year ahead: “In 2016-2017, young audiences will have more opportunities than ever before to take part in interactive musical activities,” Johnson says. “Family Days offer opportunities for exploring music through hands-on activities in addition to performances, and Carnegie Kids for younger audiences will feature musical experiences that inspire play and curiosity. The New York Pops will also return for their beloved annual holiday Family Concert with New York Theatre Ballet and other performers.” carnegiehall.org/carnegiekids

Mission: The mission of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to entertain, enrich, and expand a global community for Jazz through performance, education and advocacy.
Highlights for the year ahead: The Jazz for Young People concert program consists of hour-long narrated concerts, which use warmth and humor to introduce key musical concepts and other jazz fundamentals to grades 2 and up. Coming up on November 5, 2016, the “Family Concert: Who is Count Basie?” will celebrate piano player and bandleader William “Count” Basie with an hour-long narrated concert featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, crowd participation, and engaging storytelling by Wynton Marsalis. academy.jazz.org

The mission of Lincoln Center’s LC Kids program is to provide families with access to free and low-cost top-quality performances and events. LC Kids offers many unique and engaging activities designed to bring children and their families together on the Lincoln Center campus as well as throughout the city.
Highlights for the year ahead: LC Kids will present seasonal events for families such as Spring Fling and Winter Warm-Up. Other events for 2017 will be announced at a later date. family.lincolncenter.org

Mission: “For the past 16 years, Literally Alive has offered NYC families an intimate, personal introduction to the world of musical theatre,” says producing artistic director Brenda Bell. “We produce original musicals based on classic literature, which we present with a live ensemble that plays in full view of the audience, offering a unique glimpse at an aspect of the art form that is usually hidden from view.”
Highlights for the year ahead: This October and November, they’ll run “Stone Soup.” “A Christmas Carol” returns in December, and in February through April 2017, “The Little Mermaid” will take the stage. All are original musicals and offer pre-show family workshops. literallyalive.com

Mission: “The Little Orchestra Society (LOS NY) presents live music in ways that inspire and educate audiences of all ages, while creating a new model for the 21st-Century orchestra that emphasizes connections with the community,” says executive director Joanne Bernstein-Cohen.
Highlights for the year ahead: “LOS KIDS is the Little Orchestra Society’s popular concert series for children ages 3-10,” Bernstein-Cohen says. “This season, kids will meet four new composers (Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bernstein, and Mendelssohn)—in the flesh—and learn what makes them and their music unique. Audiences will join the eccentric Professor Treblemaker, the orchestra, and the composers on a musical adventure.” littleorchestra.org 

Mission: New York City Children’s Theater is an award-winning, critically-acclaimed nonprofit organization (formerly Making Books Sing) that creates original, entertaining and enriching theater for young audiences and adults to enjoy together. Their mission is to promote children’s literacy and social development through professional theater productions and arts-in-education programs.
Highlights for the year ahead: New York City Children’s Theater turns 20 years old this year! In addition, they’ll be performing “FIVE,” their sensory touring production designed for students with special needs and celebrating the unique boroughs of New York City. Best for ages 3-8, “FIVE” will engage the five senses through videos and sensory objects, incorporating live music and puppetry. nycchildrenstheater.org


Last year's "Cuba Vibra!" at the New Victory Theater
Last year’s “Cuba Vibra!” at the New Victory Theater

Mission: The New Victory Theater knows that NYC kids are all unique, but all deserving of performances that are imaginative, inspiring, fun, and deeply moving—so they present a season of shows that is just as diverse. You’ll see quality productions of theater, dance, circus, opera, puppetry, and music from around the world for all age groups (including under-fives) at affordable prices. Their mission also speaks to the theater’s robust education programs, which serve 40,000 kids each year, making the New Victory Theater the largest provider of live performance to NYC school kids.
Highlights for the year ahead: Next season opens with a multimedia take on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. With eye-popping projections and stagecraft, it’s an inventive reimagining of the classic science-fiction novel. This December, Circus der Sinne will dazzle and delight with daring acrobatics, jugglers, mind-bending contortionists, joyful dance and live musicians in their newest production, “Mother Africa: My Home.” In the spring, an inventive troupe of seven performers fuses circus, dance, physical theater and clowning into a captivating performance with a little bit of everything in “Something.newvictory.org

Mission: “Drama teaches children empathy; to experience inner lives of other people,” says artistic director John McEneny. “It makes children kinder. Piper is an intensive, ensemble based, youth theatre with an emphasis on outdoor physicality and the principals of Grotowski. In four weeks, Piper’s mission is to create a community of children who will work as a team, support each other, challenge each other, create meaning, share what they have learned and taste success.”
Highlights for the year ahead:  “Now in our sixteenth year in residency at the Old Stone House in Washington Park [in Park Slope], our drama programs are led by theatre educators with Masters Degrees in education,” McEneny says. “The workshops for ages 11 to 16 arefour- week intensives that culminate in two performances for the community. This year, we will be creating productions of the sand and swords adventure “Beast Master,” the fantasy “Alice in Wonderland,” and the musicals “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “Blood Brothers” … We also have a hands film-making program where children can write, act, film, edit their own short films.” pipertheatre.org 


Puss and Peddlar 480dpi low res
Puppetworks’ “Puss in Boots.”

Mission: Puppetworks, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation, established in 1980 by a New York City-based group of theatre artists under the direction of Nicolas Coppola, and dedicated to preserve and present historic puppet theater, with special emphasis on the hand-carved wooden marionette. Puppetworks plays are as faithful as possible to source material—primarily classic children’s literature and international folk and fairytales. Puppetworks presents professional marionette productions in their own Park Slope, Brooklyn theatre, as well as in other venues such as Macy’s, where they enjoy a more than 35-year residency in their Holiday Children’s Theatre. Each performance includes advance study guides for Teachers, puppet-making activity sheets for children and a Live Demonstration on how our marionettes are created and operated.

Highlights for the Year Ahead:  Puppetworks will show “The Wizard of Oz” this summer, “Hansel & Gretel” this fall, and “Puss in Boots” in winter 2017. puppetworks.org

Mission: “We are Commedia dell’ Arte troupe residing at The Soho Playhouse dedicated to bringing fresh and unique live theatrical experiences designed specifically for the entire family,” says playwright and co-director Sam LaFrage. “In short, we do fairytales. But not yo mama’s fairytales. We do fractured fairytales that spoof and riff off of pop culture… and we do it all in the style of Commedia dell’Arte, which is an early style of Italian street theatre that incorporates big funny characters, improvisation, and direct audience involvement all in one. All of our shows are audience interactive, and the kids are 100 percnet integrated into every performance… Through our crazy camp and comedy, we hope to empower and inspire all youngins and grown folk alike to embrace what makes them different.
Highlights for the year ahead: “We are so excited because we have … ‘The Commedia Cinderella’ running every Saturday morning at 11 AM at The Soho Playhouse,” LaFrage says. “This production is just as twisted and delirious as our last one, ‘The Commedia Rapunzel.’ Cinderella features a crazy roller skating fairy godmother, a posse of singing furry friends, and a stepfamily from ‘Toddlers and Tiaras.’”  thecommediarapunzel.com

Mission: “[Our mission] is to provide high-quality, fun, engaging and affordable performances every weekend when it may be a bit too cold to go outdoor-swimming (October-March),” says Darren Critz, director of performing arts programs at Symphony Space. “And to make it something new each week, so you’ll never get bored with us!
Highlights for the year ahead: According to Critz: “Award-winning puppetry from Vermont, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and beyond; awe-inducing circus from Montreal with Les Parfaits Inconnus in their NYC debut; the best Kindie music in the country with Gustafer Yellowgold, Elizabeth Mitchell, Red Yarn, Sugar Free Allstars, and more!” symphonyspace.org

TADA! Youth Theater
Mission: TADA!’s mission is twofold: To present high-quality musical theater productions performed by talented kids for family audiences; and to provide a safe, creative, and nurturing place where kids can harness their inherent energy, build their self-esteem, and realize their true potential through unique collaborative art form that is musical theater.
Highlights for the year ahead: TADA!’s Original Musical, “The Adventures from Ezra Jack Keats: Skates & Maggie and the Pirate,” for ages 3 and up is a dance-theater piece about two friends learning to skate, and will run this summer from July 9-August 4. Also, during TADA!’s Musical Theater Summer Camps (June 13-September 2) ages 4-14 can create and perform an original mini-musical…in as little as five days! Each week campers write, rehearse, and perform a completely unique mini-musical based on the assigned theme for that camp. tadayouththeater.org

Mission:“Vital Theatre Company is a community of artists who believe that a shared theatrical experience profoundly affects people’s lives,” says artistic director Stephen Sunderlin. “We create stories that challenge our audience to ask questions, make discoveries and engage in dialogue. If one adult is inspired, if one child’s imagination is awakened, if one student is empowered, our theatre is important and vital.”
Highlights for the year ahead: “Vital Theatre Company’s long-running hit show ‘Pinkalicious, The Musical,’ now in its 10th year, and our most recent hit show, ‘Twinkle Tames A Dragon,’ will continue this summer at our new performance location, Theater At Blessed Sacrament, on 71st Street on the Upper West Side,” Sunderlin says. “ This summer, our hugely popular performance camps return. Vital Theatre Company has seen success with shows for an older audience, ages 6-12, based on popular chapter books like “Peace, Love and Cupcakes, The Musical” and “Fashion Academy, The Musical” and will continue this trend with an exciting new title in the fall of 2016. Stay tuned for our 2016-2017 Season Announcement!” vitaltheatre.org