Mind Your Manners

by Kellie Abrahamson
The mere thought of trying to control a toddler during a play can give some parents nightmares but it is possible to make the experience a (mostly) painless and rewarding one. Like anything else, taking your child to the theatre requires plenty of planning and a little bit of luck. Here are a few tips on how to make their first play a success while keeping your sanity intact.

Pre-Show Prep
Before buying your tickets for Romeo and Juliette take into consideration your child’s age; kids younger than 12 probably won’t sit through Shakespeare’s tragedy. If you’ve got little guys consider a shorter production designed specifically for kids, like something put on by Theatreworks (theatreworksjax.com). When in doubt, check the theater’s website or contact the box office about age recommendations or restrictions. One last thought: babies, no matter how well-behaved, should never attend a show, it’s just too risky.
Be sure to buy your tickets in advance and be mindful of where your seats are. Families of unpredictable toddlers should try to find a seat on an aisle near an exit in case of a meltdown. Be sure to notify theater staff of any special needs when you’re buying your tickets, including asthma or seizures since some shows use special effects that can trigger attacks. Finally, be sure to ask about the theater’s refund policy, just in case.
Take a few minutes each day leading up to the show to discuss with your child what they’re about to see. Talk about what it’s like to see a show and how they are expected to behave. If the play is based on a book, read it to them. If there’s no book version, look up clips or photos on the internet. Don’t think of it as spoiling the plot, the experience of live theatre is what it’s all about. Giving them something to look forward to will make them far more attentive when the big day finally arrives.

The Day Of
Tuck some quiet toys into you bag for the kids to play with before the show or during intermission. Think books or stuffed animals, nothing that could possibly make noise during the play.
There’s something about watching a play that gets tiny tummies grumbling, so make sure your child is well-fed directly before the show. If you absolutely have to bring a snack into the theater make sure it’s free of wrappers and can be eaten silently. There’s nothing worse than sitting in front of a kid munching loudly on carrot sticks during a performance.
Arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to get settled and allow your child to take in all of the sights and sounds of the theater. The show itself is just one part of your child’s first theatrical experience. As you make your way to your seats, point out the stage, the lighting grid, any visible sets and other points of interest.
Kids have a funny way of suddenly feeling “the urge” as soon as the lights go down, so a few minutes before the show take a trip to the restroom, even if they claim they don’t have to go. Be sure to take another potty break during intermission, just in case.

During, Intermission and After
If your little theatergoer has a meltdown in the middle of the performance, calmly head for the nearest exit and take a time-out in the lobby. If it’s a child-oriented show, the audience and the performers will most likely be understanding- they’ve all gone through it before! Once they’ve calmed down, quietly head back to your seats and enjoy. If they simply won’t or can’t be quiet, however, call it a day. You can always try again!
Once you’re through with you intermission potty break, talk to your child about what they’ve seen so far. Praise them for their good behavior (if applicable) and remind them to keep up the good work during the second half of the show.
After the lights come back up and the actors have taken their bows, encourage you child to talk about what they thought of the show and go over anything that might have been confusing. If possible, re-read the book it’s based on and talk about how the play was the same or different. Make your child’s first experience with live theatre something special and memorable and they’ll want to make going a repeat performance.