Enjoy the show!

Is your child ready to see live theater?

It was just a local high school production of Cinderella, but that didn’t matter to Vivian Hung’s three-year-old daughter, Alila, who was star struck. After the show, Alila even posed with the actors, ‘the Prince’ and ‘Cinderella,’ while Vivian snapped pictures to capture her daughter’s love of the theater. 

Hung believes in exposing kids to the arts as early as possible. Lucky for the Callicoon Center resident, it’s easy to make that happen in the Hudson Valley where there is a wide variety of family-focused fare. For budget-conscious parents, many events are also easy on the pocketbook, from the free concerts at the kid-friendly Harvest Festival at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel to the affordable $10 entrance fee at the Bardavon’s Pigeon Party in Kingston.

“A museum or cultural performance is a great place to bring children because it provides exposure to resources, such as sounds, artifacts, and ideas, that most people are not exposed to on a daily basis,” says Margaret Hughes, Bethel Woods’ museum outreach educator. “Museums and live performances often document and help preserve culture and collective memory, so they tell stories that are important to our cultural identities.”

That’s why Bethel Woods, the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, has created a regular schedule of youth-at programs, where young adults are invited to visit during a culturally-oriented show and participate with premier artists in pre-show activities, such as performances, lectures and demonstrations. In August, the center brought in Music is Magic to give kids hands-on experiences with music. The show was offered in partnership with the Janice Center, a Jeffersonville performing arts studio and teaching center.

The benefits of seeing it live
“What a child gains from a live performance versus a movie or TV is truly incomparable,” says Tanya Cohen, director of the Janice Center. Cohen has been teaching music to kids for the past 15 years, and she encourages you to take your kids to live performance venues to get a taste of a real performance.

“Although a movie can be stimulating to the visual sense, a live performance takes it to a completely different level,” says Cohen. “Many times, more of the senses are incorporated into the performance and enhanced to keep the young audiences’ attention.”

Choose the right show
It’s perhaps your biggest contention, wondering if your kids are really going to be able to pay attention to an entire event. To remedy this, Hung chooses something Alila is interested in and that is age-appropriate. Of course, whether or not your child pays attention depends on the event you are bringing him to, but our experts say your child might surprise you.

To help you choose, the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston lists age appropriateness right on their advertisements for the various performances. “Although parents know their child best, we are usually right,” says Kathleen Petrillo, UPAC’s community events coordinator. “Infants and very young children may be frightened by the darkness and could disrupt the performance for others by crying or talking loudly.”

“There is never such a thing as being too young to visit a museum or attend a performance, but parents should take steps to make sure that children are prepared for the experience and the facility is child-friendly,” Hughes says.

Cohen says her own daughter’s first live musical performance was geared toward kids, and the three-year-old was mesmerized. “The most important thing is to have fun! It is a special outing and if treated as such your child will hold this experience dear to them forever,” Cohen says.

Once you decide on an event, get them excited for the performance beforehand. It will enhance their experience! Start by visiting the venue’s website to learn what the kids will be watching. “If they’ll be attending a concert, listen to the music beforehand so they can get familiar with the tunes or the lyrics, perhaps even allowing them to listen for particular beats or songs,” says Hughes. She also suggests if you’re seeing a play that was based on a children’s book, first buy the book or borrow it from the library and read it together.

Prepare for the fidgets
Hung also knows that her daughter doesn’t have the attention span to handle a lengthy play without the benefit of song and dance, which is why she chooses Cinderella or Dora the Explorer shows. Alila has attended plays at the Forestburgh Playhouse in Forestburgh and seen “Dora Live” with her family. She’s been engaged and well-behaved each time. 

If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, bring along crayons and paper so if your child starts fidgeting, you can encourage him to draw a picture based on the music or story. Depending on the venue, you can let your child move around too, especially at intermission. Most kid-friendly venues encourage dancing and singing along with the performance. “We did not leave at intermission though we did walk around to see other people,” says Hung. “And I did bring snacks.”

Petrillo also says that art of taking kids to a performance is teaching them not to be disruptive. Kids learn theater etiquette, such as  when it’s appropriate to interact with the performers and when they need to be quiet and pay attention.

Broadway bound
Hung is already considering taking Alila to a Broadway show that is meant for her age, such as Shrek or The Little Mermaid. “They will be visually spectacular, she already knows the music and the story, and Mommy gets her NYC fix!” she laughs. Seriously, Hung explains that exposing Alila to myriad forms of entertainment is enriching her daughter’s education.

“It can be pretty dynamic to see live music, sets and acting. I think it helps with her imagination when she plays pretend,” Hung says. “At this age, the role-playing is a favorite activity. And she remembers things she saw at the shows and tries to re-enact it or explain it in minute detail.”

One final tip
Some theater ticket prices can be pricey. If you want to try your child out at a theater production, but don’t want to invest the money, try a local high school theater production. The students take their work seriously, but if you must leave because your child is getting fidgety, it’s not costing you too much. It’s also a great way to introduce your child to supporting the local arts in the schools.

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Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and mom from Sullivan County. Visit her award-winner blog at