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HomeFamilyParenting AdvicePreparing to take children to the theater — Good Parenting

Preparing to take children to the theater — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My mother-in-law is hinting she’d like to take our little ones to see her older granddaughter’s dance recital in a few weeks. Then she goes on about taking them to the theaters in Baltimore and D.C. in a couple of years. My children are 2 and 5 years old. I sometimes have trouble managing them in the grocery store — where there’s lots to see, it’s okay to carry on a conversation, there are friendly people to smile at them, and they are entertained by the motion of the shopping cart. I can’t imagine them sitting still and paying respectful attention for a 60 minute show.

Thoughts?

Husher Not an Usher

Don’t miss last week’s column The benefits of teaching baby sign language — Good Parenting

Dear HNU,

Yes, it is hard to keep young children still and quiet that long. Fortunately there are plenty of venues and genres of entertainment that are suitable for the preschool age group. A family member’s dance recital is an excellent choice. The program will be relatively short, with frequent calls for applause, and there are sure to be other children, some on adults’ laps, in the audience.

Other options for first time theater experiences could be: children’s and family events at a public library or shopping center; a skit presentation by older cousins or neighbor children at a Sunday School or a scout event; or a dress rehearsal for dance/ music/ drama in an actual theater. Do you have other family members or acquaintances who perform? Ask if they have a regular rehearsal schedule or would welcome a “practice” audience for a dress rehearsal. The venue might be the auditorium of a high school, college or community theater. Rehearsals often have short segments of performing interrupted by direction-giving (during any of which a little whispering among you and your children, or skipping to the bathroom, will not be noticed). And you can plan to stay for just a sampling which will not be nearly as taxing to the attention span as a full-length show.

The Annapolis Chorale has a standing weekly rehearsal during the “season.” I recall my mother getting an invitation to bring the five of us, ranging in age from about 4 to 13, for a friend’s practice run of her first piano solo — in their family room. The pianist wanted to get over her stage fright jitters and we got to practice the role of music patrons.

The advantage of a non-standard venue — such as an elementary school cafeteria or the library’s meeting room — is that the audience seating is primarily on the floor which is more comfortable for the children than stiff adult-sized chairs. Outdoor venues are also conducive for children with seating on your own blanket. Due to the acoustics of being outdoors, quiet conversation during the performance won’t disturb other audience members and your children’s spontaneous dancing may even add to their enjoyment. Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks has a family friendly line-up for the summer. The Naval Academy Band performs at City Dock and other nearby venues.

For ongoing child-friendly entertainment, consult the Chesapeake Family Magazine’s online calendar.

Audience Rehearsal

Between now and the dance recital, see if you and your little ones can have a few rehearsals of your own. Set up seating and a stage area in your living room or back yard for whatever your talents may be. Guide and model with quiet attention and appreciative applause. Performers can grandly bow and perhaps be persuaded to do an encore. “Home theater” takes on a new (or old?) meaning when you cultivate this into a regular family activity. As the children get older, the performers and audience can widen to include their playmates and even the playmates’ parents. What a great introduction to theater — both as performer and audience. I have fond memories of us using the backyard clothesline, affixed with a sheet or blanket as the curtain for our block of baby boomers’ spectacular summer shows. Many of us continued to enjoy being on the bright side of the footlights through school and young adulthood. One of these particular backyard troubadours proudly claims “musician” as his longstanding career.

Setting the Stage

There will be different behavioral expectations, though many similarities, between a children’s dance class recital and a Teddy Bear Concert at the Kennedy Center. Dance teachers realize that a recital audience is more interested in the performers than the performance, per se. You can get away with waving at your dancer and not paying too much attention to the other performers since they will each have their own fan club in attendance. As you approach the date of your children’s first “real” theater experience, review the behavioral expectations. Yes, they are hopefully going for their own enjoyment, but so are other audience members and the performers as well. We do our talking quietly, between acts. We use the bathroom before the house lights dim, during intermission, and or after the final curtain.

To add interest to this outing, you may want to teach your children some theater vocabulary. It’s usually confusing for children to see lots of applause given to a lone man or woman — not even in costume — who walks onstage after everything is over. As part of the learning experience, talk about the role of a director, choreographer, author and other special contributors to the performance in advance of the show.

Dressing Up

When you’re ready to advance to more formal theater, help your children to enjoy the “costuming” that is required of a “formal” audience. Picking out dressy clothes is sometimes the hardest part of getting ready to take some children out. But if you plan ahead, give them choices, and cater to comfort and special preferences (a jazzy tie or flamboyant hair ribbon), it might not be so dreadful for your children to ratchet up their usual wardrobe standard by a few notches. Of course if their standard attire is a tutu or superhero cape, you’ll be helping them to ratchet down the attire in deference to the performers.

Theater Customs

The dance recital is a nice opportunity for your children to show their respect and admiration for their cousin. It is customary to bestow flowers upon a performer for a job well done, especially by family members. The dancing cousin, if this is a first recital, will also be learning this custom when she receives the flowers. Another theater custom is for the performers to come out to the lobby to be greeted, and shown enthusiastic appreciation, by the audience. When I was a child I learned about using the printed program to collect the actors’ signatures after an Adventure Theater. As a teenager I enjoyed being part of the same community theater group and was humbled to see younger children clamoring to get my John Hancock, as well as those of my fellow cast members.

How wonderful that your children have a grandmother wants to usher them in to the world of the theater. On with the show!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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