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Top Tips For Preparing Your Child to See a Broadway Show

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |


Make sure your kids know what to expect from this thrilling experience

For many families, it is a holiday tradition to make a trip to the Great White Way to experience the terrific entertainment available there. For others, this year may be their first time considering this special outing. Taking your child to their first Broadway show can be a life-changing experience that sets them up to be life-long theater lovers who find a thrill being transported and transformed through the magic of live theater. A first trip to a Broadway show can also be a daunting experience for a child if they aren’t prepared for what to expect. Here are some suggestions on how to make your child’s initial sojourn to Broadway an unqualified success.

‘School of Rock’ could make for a perfect show to see as a family (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

‘School of Rock’ could make for a perfect show to see as a family (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

The Chat:
Take some time to talk to your child about what to expect and what is expected of them when they attend a live theater performance. Have a chat with them about theater etiquette, letting them know that theater is not like TV or a movie. The actors and the theatregoers can hear the noises people make, and audiences are expected to follow certain behaviors as not to ruin the experience for others. Share with them how and when to show appreciation, when to ask questions, when and why we clap and, most-importantly, instill in them an appreciation and respect for the time-honored tradition of theater.

Crowd Control:
Something we may not think about, but should take into account before taking a child to the theatre, is the crowds. For some kids, crowds can be an overwhelming experience. For others, it can be a huge distraction. Consider that most Broadway shows are housed in buildings that can accommodate one-thousand to sixteen-hundred guests. That is a lot of people navigating relatively tight quarters, including standing in lines waiting for the doors to open and then being ushered to their seats. Don’t spring this on a child, but rather discuss it in advance, letting them know to stay close, to listen carefully, and have a back-up plan in place in case you get separated. 

The Dry Run:
If you are apprehensive about how your child’s attention span will manage a two-hour-plus play or musical, it can be effective to have a dry run at home. This is essentially a practice run-through of seeing a show. Get dressed up and pretend you are going to the theater. Netflix and other streaming platforms have family-friendly musicals to watch, such as Shrek: The Musical and Newsies. Try watching one of these as if you are at the theater. Model clapping, laughing (when appropriate), turning off electronic devices and listening carefully. Take a fifteen or twenty-minute bathroom break at intermission. This is a fun exercise that helps put kids in the frame of mind for their live theater experience, while giving parents an opportunity to gauge if their child is ready.

If you are seeing a musical, consider purchasing and listening to the original cast album of the show you are about to see. Kids will be more receptive to songs that they are familiar with. When they hear the songs in the context of the show, the familiarity will create an instant connection for them, and their theatergoing experience becomes personalized. It’s also fun for the family to create a library of the shows they have seen together, to revisit the experience days, months and years later.

The Not-So-Dry Run:
Little ones have notoriously small bladders, and Broadway houses have notoriously small bathrooms. It is helpful to get to the theater as early as possible and, before going to your seats, bring your child to the lavatory in an effort to relieve themselves before the curtain comes up. Intermissions are seldom long enough to get everyone through the lines at the bathrooms, so don’t find yourself missing the first ten minutes of Act Two as you wait for a free toilet. Obviously, some children will need to use the facilities during intermission, and you’ll have to adjust, but making that initial stop before the show starts will make your trip so much easier.

Getting with the Program:
Attending a Broadway show usually comes with each ticketholder being bestowed a program. Your child may or may not understand exactly what to do with this souvenir booklet. If you have time before the show, take them through it. Show them the names of the actors they are going to see. Walk them through the list of songs (if you are seeing a musical) and also talk to them about the artists behind the scenes (directors, choreographers, writers, designers) and give them a full appreciation of the hard work and creativity that have gone into what they are about to experience. They will gain a deeper understanding of the art form.

After Thoughts:
It is just as important to help kids synthesize their theater experience as it is to prepare them for it in advance. After the show, encourage discussion. Ask questions about what they liked and didn’t like. Be sure to share what made it special for you. Make a ritual out of celebrating the experience, maybe going out for dessert and chatting over sundaes. When you return home, have a little ceremony about putting your latest program on a shelf or framing it for the wall. Each addition to their collection will be exciting and help facilitate interest in going to the theater again.

We all want kids to succeed as audience members, and to grow into adults who continue to explore what the theater has to offer. As you attend the theater with your child this holiday season, consider the gift you are giving them: the magic of live performance. Make the most of the opportunity to prepare them to embrace it.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.

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