Why Live Theatre is Great for Kids, Even Babies and Toddlers


children's theaterI get strange looks when I tell people that my weekend plans include a theatre performance, with my kids.  For most, this conjures up images of screaming children being whisked up a dark aisle and out into the lobby mid-show.  We’ve taken our two boys (nearly 4 years and 18 mos) to a half dozen performances; they (and we) have loved every one.

Now, choosing the right show is obviously of pivotal importance.  Hubby and I loved seeing Les Miserables at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco a few weeks ago.  Awesome performance, but in no way kid-friendly.

Contrast this with the shows we’ve taken the boys to, and you realize that our city abounds with opportunities for even the youngest children to experience live theatre.

Last December’s performance at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theatre, Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets was a complete joy for our entire family. At the time, our youngest was just 9 months old and I worried about keeping him quiet and still for 50 minutes.  He was absolutely mesmerized with what was going on in front of him, eyes locked on the stage. Our then 3 year old watched the show with his mouth literally hanging open for most of it.  They were both completely blown away! (Note: Tickets for this year’s Nutcracker Sweets went on sale September 1st. It’s well worth booking early to get good seats!)

The Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT) is a real gem in the city, located at Yerba Buena Gardens.  Their Berkeley venue is a bit of a commute for us city-dwellers, but it’s very conveniently accessible via BART – a bonus for those of us with train lovers in our lives. Our first BACT show was part of their Theatre for the Very Young series, aimed at those 6 mos – 3 years old. In this interactive, musical show, the performers actually welcomed little ones who darted away from their parents and beelined towards the stage.  Kids were invited to touch the props and were even made to be part of the performance.

The Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s Mainstage performance of Pete the Cat wraps production September 16th, and a bilingual The Cat in the Hat opens on Sept 15th. One of the most amazing parts of a BACT show is that the cast is available in the lobby for meet & greets and photo opportunities after the show.  The kids are almost as impressed with the chance to see and touch the actors as they were to see them in the performance itself.

A few tips for going to the theatre with tots in tow:

  1. Choose the right performance. If the show advertises that it’s geared for age 6+, even the smartest, most advanced 4 year old is unlikely to enjoy it.  

  2. Read the book before attending the show. Many of BACT’s shows are adaptations of children’s books. They’ll get so much more out of it if they’ve “studied the script” ahead of time.

  3. Arrive early.  So much easier said than done.  But the start of the performance is MAGIC! You want your kids to be fed, watered, and peed at least 10 minutes before curtain time so they don’t miss enjoying this big moment in full effect.

  4. Pack quiet, non-messy snacks and water bottles.  Technically you’re not allowed to eat in most theatres, and I’m not advocating breaking any rules. But the outing can be long when you factor in drive time, parking, show time, cast meet & greet etc. A few nibbles at some point along the way are inevitable for most kids.

And with that … enjoy the show!



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