Kids Can Clap, Cheer and Chat
Just Learn a Few Rules To Make Museum and Theater Trips Great
By Janelle Gann-Austin
On a trip to the zoo, it’s pretty clear to kids what you can and can’t touch. The animals in habitats set back from the walkways are off limits; however, the critters in the fenced areas can’t wait for you and your quarters to come in, visit and offer a little treat.
But when the destination for a field trip or special family event is the theater or a museum, how should a kid behave?
“Too much preparation can shut a kid down,” says Jeff Church, producing artistic director at the Coterie Theatre. “I want you to sit down and be quiet during the performance” is what kids normally hear from parents and teachers prior to a performance, Church says. “We want you to laugh, applaud, oohhh and aahhh. If it has to do with the play, darn near any response is appropriate.” Before each production at the Coterie, a preshow helps get the kids ready for the performance. The seating arrangement also helps kids connect with the show. Instead of sitting in traditional seats, kids are often seated on the floor around the stage. Sitting up front invites a natural response, he says, and in turn, kids usually sit still because they’re hypnotized by the action.
The main breach of etiquette, Church says, is bringing an infant to a show. “Infants in arms are not ready for the theater yet and that breaks etiquette,” he says. To encourage families to leave infants at home, the Coterie charges the same ticket price for an infant as for a child. While Church acknowledges that it places an additional burden on parents to find a sitter to care for an infant while an older sibling attends a performance, it can be worth the effort. While etiquette dictates that a crying infant be removed from the theater, the issue becomes cloudy when an older sibling is sitting near the stage. A parent supervising the kids alone is then torn between removing the crying child and staying with the older sibling.
“Our job is to make the theater experience successful. If we don’t, then parents and teachers legislate behavior and the kids have a sit down and shut up experience,” Church says.
What can and can’t be touched becomes the issue for kids making their first trip to a museum. To help kids navigate these new paths, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art offers interactive tools to help visitors of all ages determine what can be touched and what is off limits. Helen Meyer, manager of education volunteers for the Nelson-Atkins, says the museum uses “interactive tools to enhance the experience and provide a deeper connection and the museum’s interactive spaces are designated as such.” Meyer says a good guideline to follow is that if an object is a painting, sculpture, or other item without a case, it shouldn’t be touched. Oils from hands, rings, and fingernails can wear and gouge the works of art, she says.
When it comes to talking in a museum, Meyer says kids “should feel confident about talking and getting excited – but an inside voice is the best way to go.” These same guidelines apply for the outside areas of the museum, Meyer explains. As interactive areas are designated, so are the areas where food, drinks, and gum are allowed. Patrons can photograph and take video of items in the museum’s permanent gallery as long as they do not use a flash. Meyer says talking on cell phones should be limited to the areas where food and drink are allowed; however, phones can be used to research an item of interest in the gallery.
As part of the experience, kids of all ages are allowed to draw their favorite works at the museum; however, only pencils are allowed, Meyer says. She suggests if families have any questions regarding what can or can’t be touched at a museum, consult a security guard or staff member.
By the nature of the venue, kids can clue in that inside voices are appropriate for a museum or trip to a theater. But when that venue moves outside, it can be a little confusing. Amy Reinert, director of education and outreach for Starlight Theater, says that while the performance may be outside, inside rules apply. In partnership with the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Starlight offers children’s productions with special matinee times for groups. She says group leaders are provided with a link to a guide titled, “Welcome to the Theater – How to Behave at the Show,” to help educators and parents prepare children for what is expected. Reinert explains the guide’s “Do” list include actions such as applauding after a song or scene, using the restroom before the performance begins, and to wait until after the performance to talk about things like a favorite part of the show or how the live performance differed from the book or movie.
The “Don’t” list has guidelines that will serve kids well in any type of venue. It includes not standing on seats or kicking the seat in front of you, waiting until after the show to discuss the performance, and to leave cell phones off, muted, and put away so their full attention can be on the stage.
When it comes to taking kids to Broadway shows at Starlight, parents can visit the website for links and other information to help them determine if the show is appropriate for their children. While ensuring that a show is age-appropriate for all members of the family, another factor to consider is the length of the show. The Plan Your Visit tab on Starlight’s website provides information such as the running time of each show, the number of intermissions, and the length of the intermissions.
Reinert encourages doing some research. “For parents and kids – it is a better experience for all if you understand the source material before the show,” she says. She suggests families read the book or listen to the music from the show. This year’s Broadway season at Starlight features Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Reinert suggests that when attending a show of this nature, dressing up as a favorite character can help kids get into the spirit of the performance.
As families plan their outings and discuss etiquette for each venue, safety and what to do if separated should also be part of the discussion. Starlight’s House Manager Bob Potemski suggests that parents put a ticket into each child’s pocket when attending an event. Although staff at every venue may not be trained like Starlight staff to ask lost children if they have a ticket in their pocket, a ticket stub can be a quick way to help children get back to their families.