PICTURE THIS: You’ve dropped a serious load of cash on theatre tickets for your whole family to see the latest megamusical, and children in the theatre won’t stop getting up, talking too loudly and asking to go home. What’s worse, they’re YOUR children!
Though actors may be born in the theatre, it’s safe to say audience members are not. Growing young theatre lovers is a multi-year process that can start as young as age two, says Patti Caplette, a Winnipeg-based choreographer, writer and director with Koba Entertainment, producers of the musical Franklin and the Adventures of the Noble Knights, launching its cross-country tour this month.
Conor Alexander, 9, of Toronto, started seeing 45-minute children’s productions in a 100-cushion venue at age four. Now he’s participating in local children’s theatre programs. “I think the early exposure combined with Conor’s natural instincts resulted in a love of performing,” says his mother, Lisa Constantine. The first big show he attended was Anne of Green Gables in PEI two years ago. “Conor can sit through a show with ease provided the subject matter is oriented towards kids.”
Your child may not have displayed interest or aptitude in being on stage, but there still is much to be gained from seeing live performances over recorded versions, says Allen MacInnis, a former teacher and artistic director at Toronto’s Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. “By age four, a child’s concept of ‘pretend versus real’ is quite fully formed. There’s this cool factor that the whole room is pretending together. Special effects can achieve a lot but there are still some details that require the audience to use its imagination, an important developmental skill that is less required when watching film and television for example. Live theatre is definitely more intense. It goes in deep. I’ve had parents tell me how their children can report in great detail things they saw in a play weeks after they saw it.”
How To Grow a Theatre Lover
START SMALL. Caplette’s Franklin production is only 60 minutes with an intermission. Smaller shows tend to be less expensive, too, so if you absolutely have to leave or have several bathroom breaks, it won’t hurt quite as much. Puppet shows at local libraries and children’s theatre productions make great starter shows.
FAMILIARITY BREEDS ENTHUSIASM. Characters or plot lines that children already know are easier to understand. “Children already love the Franklin characters so they feel connected when they see them on stage,” says Caplette. A ballet, on the other hand, might require some setup.
KNOW THE SCORE. Play the soundtrack for your children a few times before seeing the show. They’ll be more interested in the music if they recognize the tunes.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Your child’s entertainment world may revolve around television, DVDs and perhaps a movie theatre. Find out ahead of time what special effects, if any, will be used in your child’s first live theatre production so you can prepare him if need be.
KNOW YOUR CHILD. Choose a production that touches on some of their interests or perhaps has one or more children in the cast.
DRESS COMFORTABLY. It’s a sign of respect to dress up for the occasion, but if the shoes are too tight and the fancy sweater is itchy, all they’ll remember is how uncomfortable they were.
SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM. Hmm, a dark warm theatre with cushy velvet seats? Sounds like a perfect place for a nap. Don’t panic if Junior dozes off. If it’s really important to you that she stay awake, make sure she’s well rested.
DISCUSS THEATRE ETIQUETTE. While many family shows, such as Caplette’s, encourage audience participation, others don’t. So tell your child what kind of behaviour is considered respectful. At the same time, live theatre is supposed to trigger emotions, so don’t get too chagrined if your child overreacts. Who knows, maybe he is destined for the stage.
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