Photo courtesy of the Philipstown Depot Theatre Often the search for current audiences is at the expense of future audiences. The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast are easy choices for parent to make when exposing their children to the arts. The downside is that tickets, concessions and souvenirs for a family with 2 or more children can drain that family’s entertainment fund for a year. This can limit the children’s (our future audiences) performing arts experience to musicals with simple stories and extravagant special effects. When these children grow up, will they attend the symphony, the ballet, modern dance or opera? It is not this writer’s intention to weigh the virtues of one art-form over another (I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast more than my kids) but to explore ways to expose young people to the full and varied range of the performing arts. I would like to propose a two-pronged solution: program/education and facility design. The goal of both is to make attending the performing arts desirable and affordable.
Since funding for the arts in grades K-12 is often sacrificed by school districts with limited budgets, perhaps the performing arts facilities and their constituent user groups can fill in the gap. In the 1960s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in New York City, funded by a grant, gave workshops in the city schools. These workshops offered students an opportunity to experience these arts, and the people who create and perform them, firsthand. Many symphony orchestras have programs, aimed at young children, that explore different sections of the orchestra and how they make music together. Carnegie Hall has programs of concerts aimed at entertaining and educating young audiences. The formal performance is preceded by an informal session where children can interact with the musicians. Many readers, of a certain age, will remember the Young Peoples Concerts presented by the New York Philharmonic and hosted by its conductor, Leonard Bernstein.
Performances of the Nutcracker Suite are often children’s first, and sometimes only, exposure to ballet. A feature on CBS’s Sunday Edition noted that many dancers had performed in the Nutcracker as children. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company and the Dance Theater of Harlem, to name a couple, have second companies that present workshops and perform in schools.
Facilities located on a college campus with performing arts departments have a built-in resource. By sponsoring events featuring campus departments, opportunities will be provided to give students experience and exposure. There can also be a synergy with the education department that will benefit student performers as well as student audiences.
So, how is this wonderful plan to be funded in an era of increased operating costs, a fluctuating economy and increasing competition for donations? That is a subject for wiser heads than mine. It is, however, an issue that must be addressed if performing arts groups and the facilities that house them are to remain viable.
We have discussed exposing children to the arts but how do we get them to the theater? And more specifically, how do we get their parents to take them? If your facility is not “kid friendly,” it will not matter if the program is free - - parents won’t make the effort. Below are several ideas that can be incorporated into the design of new facilities as well as renovations.
Family Lounge/Changing Area: This area would include a child size toilet, lavatory, changing table, bench and fountain. Ideally, each lobby level would have a Family Lounge. This room allows parents a quiet space to attend to their children (and also keep an eye on them.) For existing facilities, locating a bench and a table behind a portable partition will serve.
Pre-purchased Food and Concessions: A facility might offer a “package” that would include tickets, a snack, small drink and souvenir. The tickets could be mailed prior to the performance, but the package could be picked-up in the lobby using a voucher. As well these packages could be sold directly to patrons.
Dedicated Family Areas: Cordoning off an area of the lobby and identifying it as a family area provides a number of benefits. It provides an area where parents can more easily keep track of their kids and also a meeting place should a child become separated. Small benches and a satellite coat check allow parents to avoid crowds and provide an area for tired kids (and parents!) to rest.
Family Parking: It is common to provide parking for persons with disabilities to minimize the distance to the venue. Families also require this benefit. For matinees and “kiddie” shows, an area can be temporarily dedicated to families.