Introducing one’s child at a young age to the Arts can lay the foundation for a lifetime of artistic exploration and appreciation. Recently I was unexpectedly presented with the opportunity to take my 3 year old son to his first live theatre performance. The show was billed as an interactive concert filled with heartwarming whimsical tales about animal wisdom based on Aesop’s fables. I assumed that meant the show would be awash with music, vibrant colors and specially crafted costumes to spark the imagination of the formative years crowd. When I described the event to my son he picked out the key words “animal” and “show” and had visions of elephants, lions, and alligators performing on the stage. Understandably, he could hardly contain his excitement and I have to admit his enthusiasm was contagious. Sadly, the overwhelming exhilaration we shared would become unhinged one moment at a time like freight cars becoming uncoupled from a steam engine traveling up a mountain.
At a whirlwind pace, my son ate, got dressed, and was then whisked off by me to the theatre. You see we still needed to purchase tickets. My wife had called ahead of time to the box office to confirm the availability of seats for the performance. She conveyed to me we merely should arrive at the theatre promptly. After some effort, we found a place to park and ran to the theatre. Any chance my son receives to run is always guaranteed fun for him (…me too). To our dismay, there was a line of parents and children waiting to purchase tickets. The mood of the room was tense. The line was not moving. No tickets were being sold. Chaos was about to explode.
Apparently the theatre had not anticipated the demand. The box office person who provided the ticket availability information over the phone to a countless number of parents was grossly inaccurate. After 20 painfully slow minutes, some resolution to the ticket shortage had been achieved and tickets began to go on sale again. Tickets in hand, my son and I briskly walked into the performance space. But not before we witnessed an altercation between a short follically challenged toad like man and the box office manager. The toad man was enraged because the show start time was running late and his offspring was getting restless. “My child is having a hissy fit! What are you going to do about it?!! Hmm? What?!!!. Don’t smirk at me!!! I want answers!!!” As my son and I walked past this tirade he asked me why the toad man was yelling. I told him the man probably didn’t eat his breakfast and was in a bad mood.
Inside the performance space it was first come first serve seating. All the seats were occupied in the lower level so we meandered our way up to the balcony. My son thought the “tall” seats were cool. The first thing we both noticed was how hot the theatre felt. The room was abuzz with parents and children alike in a foul mood. I feared we were on the cusp of a riot. The show needed to start now or my son would witness firsthand how ugly a large group of people can become during times of collective duress. We had come to see a show about animals, not a show about people becoming animals.
Keenly aware of the curdling blood thirst in the air, a woman associated with the theatre went on stage to thank the parents for their patience. She gave gushing praise to all the “WONderful” parents and their “BEAUtiful” children for attending today’s performance. A smattering of applause ensued offset by discernible grumbling. She exited off the stage and the show began. 3 women made their entrance on stage dressed in normal outfits. One sat at the piano, the second holding a flute walked in front of a microphone, and the third walked in front of a stool. My son, looking puzzled, asked me “where are the animals, and the puppets, and the costumes Daddy?” I told him I wasn’t sure. That perhaps they were behind the curtains. He seemed placated by my response and continued to look on with eager anticipation all the while craning his neck to glance behind the curtains for a peek at the animals.
Fifteen minutes into the performance it was painstakingly clear that no animals, puppets, elaborate stage sets, or any hint of wonder would be making an appearance on stage. The show was basically 3 women, 2 of them playing their instruments to accompany the third woman telling stories based on Aesop’s fables. That’s it. Arguably this type of performance would have been fine in a classroom setting. But this was a 500 seat theatre filled to capacity with families who had made the effort to convince, dress, and transport their children to a public facility in order to be entertained by a theatrical event. It was inevitable in such a combustible environment an explosion might occur. It was just a matter of when.
It started as a mere harmless trickle. Parents gathering up their children and quietly leaving the theatre during the performance. But then it became this wave of focused hate. Families yelling at each other, expletives flying with a large percentage of malice directed at the performers on stage. One crazed mother spit out a profanity laced “shame on you!” as she exited with her children. At this point, my son wanted to go. He had been surprisingly patient throughout the entire ordeal but had reached his limit. Besides, the “Tall” seats were not so much fun any more. We made our escape out a back exit. Luckily we had just missed the mass exodus. We overheard the performance ending along with the continued cacophony of outraged parents as we descended the stairs.
We were able to salvage the afternoon with a combination of donuts and a visit to the park. The slides have a magical effect on kids as well as parents. As we left to go home, my son took me by surprise by recanting the fables he heard from the show. Inexplicably, despite the crazed, unpleasant environment he had the misfortune to endure at the theatre, he was able to take something positive from the experience. Overall, we had a great day.
Suggestions for your own Theater adventures:
- Thoroughly research the show before committing your family’s time and energy to attend. I can’t emphasize enough based on my own experience how invaluable this will be for parents.
- Gauge your child’s readiness to sit still for extended periods of time.
- Talk to your child after the show to find out their perception of the performance. Never assume it will be the same as your own.