Ann Arbor Theater Vixen: Jenn McKee's Blog

{August 7, 2009}   Bring the kids! (Or don’t!)

While watching “Oklahoma” at Dexter’s Encore Theatre (you can read my review here), I took great interest in a couple who had brought their three kids along to see the show.

In the past, of course, I wouldn’t have been remotely interested. But since Joe and I had Lily last year, I’ve been wondering about how and when to introduce her to theater as she gets older.

Every theater lover, I think, has gauzy, romanticized notions of taking her child to musicals and plays and then, of course, talking about them over a dinner (one in which the child doesn’t fling food at you or other diners, or have a complete meltdown while a french fry hangs sadly from her lip like a limp cigarette). Obviously, the reality of parenting is much messier and more complicated than our daydreams, so I’m chewing on the ways Lily’s introduction to theater might really go down.

The kids at “Oklahoma” were pretty darn well-behaved, but two and a half hours is a long time for anyone to sit, let alone little ones. The kids stood behind or hung on the father – the seats were at the end of a row, so no one’s view was disrupted – and the little boy occasionally hummed or chatted.

From a couple rows away, this didn’t distract me too much, despite how manic I can be about what I consider to be my “right” to lose myself completely in a show or film; as far as I’m concerned, I purchase that right when I pay for my ticket. And this is why cell phones ringing, and then BEING ANSWERED, in either context represents one of the rare times in my life when I contemplate committing violence upon someone.

Part of this obsessiveness on my part comes from my inability to multi-task. I was built to do one thing at a time, very carefully and meticulously, and that’s IT. Many will likely view this as a handicap – like only having vision in one eye, or not owning a Prius in Ann Arbor – but I accept this about myself. I was the grad student who, while in a quiet part of the library, shoved earplugs in my ears. I want and need to have my attention tightly reined in in order to get the most out of things.

Maybe it’s because e-mail and the Internet came along during my path to adulthood, and so I was just on the cusp of a generation that struggles to harness their attention, too. I don’t know. But my own highly-calibrated sensitivity makes me worry that I’d have so much anxiety about Lily disturbing others that I might hesitate about bringing her to shows.

Then again, Guy Sanville, the Purple Rose’s artistic director, often sits behind me at the theater with his young daughter, Rose, who watches the plays with rapt attention. Now, Guy’s quick to point out that she’s amazing and unusual, of course, but this does remind me that every kid is different, and it all depends on the individual kid. Even within the same family, some kids may be fine and focused while watching live theater, while others would be a nightmare.

So I guess that’s my answer. I’ll just have to see what kind of kid Lily is, what her interests turn out to be, and how her personality forms. I’ll test her out with movies first, and when she can sit for those, we’ll give theater a try, if all other indicators are “go.”

My guess is that between her litigator father and writer mother, she’ll have a pretty good shot at being a kid who can focus for a good amount of time. But as with all things related to parenting, it’s a crap shoot.

Let’s just hope she doesn’t fall in love with “Cats.”


Erik Kuszynski says:

Our girls are pretty well behaved kids. If we tell them we’re going to a nice restaurant and we expect them to behave, they usually do. They can easily sit through a 75 minute church service without incident.
And as a parent, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you can reasonably expect from your child in terms of bein able to sit and be quiet. Use your best judgement.

I’ll tell you this: Even at 7 years old, our kids would be hard pressed to sit through play or musical. (Disney shows excepted.) We tested this theory at a recent highschool presentation of “Annie.” They did pretty well, but got squirmy durring the second act.

Good luck. I can’t wait to read your review of “The Wiggles Live On Stage.”

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