“Never work with children or animals” is the cliché. But what about sitting in an audience with them? In this case I’m talking about the former rather than the latter.
This season I’ve spent a bit more time than normal in theatre aimed at children & families, and it’s been interesting to study audience behaviour. I’ve found that quite young children are surprisingly well-behaved, on the whole – and it’s actually young adults & parents that can be more of a problem! Apparently a group of teenagers in the front row at The Lorax were pretty restless & distracting during one of the press performances (so one of the cast told me), whereas the children up in the dress circle (where I was sitting) were pretty much enraptured the whole way through.
And I think this may partly come down to how well the young folk have been prepared for their trip to the theatre.
If parents or teachers aren’t regular theatregoers themselves, it can be hard to know how to prepare for the trip. So maybe these tips could be of some use…
1. Know what the show is about
Most shows will have an age rating & a synopsis on their websites, so this should be easy to do – though I’ve seen rather young children at Sunny Afternoon on quite a few occasions now… Very loud & full of swearing, so not exactly appropriate! I admit that quite often I don’t know exactly what a show is about when I go to see it for the first time, but I have no dependents and am not very easily offended.
2. Be confident the children are able to sit in an auditorium quietly
This probably sounds really patronising, but bear with me. I’ve actually taken this from a former colleague with children aged 7 & 5, I believe. She made a decision not to bring her children to a show until she was sure they’d be able to sit there for an extended period of time without getting too fidgety or talkative. It’s sensible for everyone involved.
3. Find out the timings (& if there is an interval) beforehand
Most shows do have an interval of some kind, but it’s always worth a check. Once a show is out of previews websites should give you an estimated running time; occasionally they’ll tell you how long each act is, or quite often you can find this in the programme.
4. Make sure you’re aware of theatre etiquette
Basically to set a good example. If the kids want to eat, get them something quiet – and transfer sweets into a plastic cup rather than rustling a noisy bag. Discourage talking during the performance and, if they have a phone (or other device), ensure that they have turned it completely off. Theatre etiquette is a particularly thorny subject for me; the sooner children learn what they should & shouldn’t be doing, the more likely that the next generation of theatregoers will be a bit more considerate than some I seem to come across at the moment!
5. Familiarise yourself with the theatre
Find out where the toilets are, in case you need to leave the auditorium in the middle of the performance. If you’re taking a school group, check with the venue beforehand whether there will be any special arrangements – a lot of the time big groups will be asked to wait outside so other patrons can take their seats first. And if you are bringing a large group, make sure you’re there in enough time to get them all in before the show is due to start!
I hope that these pointers are useful, and help you to get as much out of your trip to the theatre as possible! When we go to see a show we all want to have a good time (well, depending on the subject matter I suppose) – being prepared can only be a good thing.