Why the Arts Matter + Portland-Area Live Performances

Exposure to the performing arts helps kids in immeasurable ways. See what local companies and venues have in store this fall and winter.

Courtesy of White Bird, Credit Matthew Tomac

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you have a lot going on. You’re struggling with inflation; your car needs new brakes; your son needs a math tutor. Performing arts are not at the top of your priority list.

You’ll get no guilt here. Parenting is a lot even in the good times. But if you’re curious, we asked some of Portland’s performing arts educators and youth performers to tell us, “Why attend arts events? Especially if we’re not a performing kind of family, and our kids probably aren’t going  into this as a career?”


Why Attend Arts Events?

“Well, for one thing, it’s fun,” says Deanna Tham, associate conductor for the Oregon Symphony.  But in addition to that, she and the other performers and arts educators emphasized connection. Nik Whitcomb at Bag&Baggage says that going to see a play can be a great form of connection with the actors and the rest of the audience. Whitcomb pointed out that even though they’re both dramatic storytelling, a theater production connects you to the actors in a way a movie can’t. The actors can hear you just like you can hear them. You can respond (and in theater aimed at young audiences, you’ll be asked to respond). You’re there. And hopefully, you’re there together, as a family. On the way there, and on the way back, talk about it. Lean into the connective power of performing arts.

Continuing the theme of connection, Aaron Nigel Smith at The Reser pointed out the growing body of research showing that arts experiences help children to make mental and emotional connections that serve them in every possible area of life. “Children who have access to high-quality arts experiences do better in life,” Smith says, starting with graduating from high school and college.

And if your kids do want to participate in the arts, those community connections can go even deeper. Ishan Ghosh and Noah Carr are both 12th graders in Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony. “The shared experience of participating in the performing arts, whether as an audience member or performer, creates unique communities,” says Ishan, who plays the oboe and violin.  

“I cannot imagine the person I would be today without the artistic exposure I have had access to,” says Noah, who plays the violin. “Collaboration, focus, and creativity are all at the core of performing arts, and exposure to performances encourages the development of these perspectives and skills.”

This fits perfectly with Smith’s perspective: the connections children build through the performing arts are both interpersonal and internal. And the internal, “inter-neural” connections are useful not only for playing an instrument, singing or dancing on a stage, but for every possible thing our children may choose to pursue for the rest of their lives. 


Shows are organized by presenter or venue, starting with shows for the youngest audiences and going up in age. Ages listed are recommendations only.

What’s Showing

White Bird

Jaquelin Harris by Dario Calmese, courtesy of White Bird

If you have younger children, look out for White Bird’s offerings with Saturday matinees. White Bird’s other shows this season are all family-appropriate as well, but probably most enjoyed by middle school or above. See their website for information about upcoming shows, including Pilobolus, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Abby Z and the New Utility, Black Grace, and Sydney Dance Company.

Ephrat Asherie Dance

Ephrat Asherie is a New York City-based b-girl, dancer and choreographer who works in collaboration with her brother Ehud Asherie, the musical director. Their newest work Odeon is set to the music of famed Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth and features an exhilarating mash-up of street and club dances, including breaking, hip-hop, house, and vogue. Elementary-school age and older.

Thursday to Saturday, November 2-4, 7:30 pm at Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University 


Lauren Edson and her husband, Andrew Stensaas, create dance, film and music that sparkle with imagination and intense physicality. This show, Kid Lightning, is a wild journey into a 1970s stylized world of game-show competition. This is a colorful performance with interesting movement, powerful and highly trained dancers, and a story with many different levels. Elementary-school age and older.

Thursday to Saturday, January 25-27, 2024, 7:30 pm and additional 2 pm Saturday matinee at Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University  

Music From The Sole

Music From The Sole is a tap and live-music company that celebrates tap’s Afro-diasporic roots, especially its connection to Afro-Brazilian dance and music. Their newest work, I Didn’t Come to Stay, embraces a unique combination of tap, percussive dance, house, and Brazilian street dance. Elementary-school age and older.

Thursday to Saturday, February 29 to March 2, 2024, 7:30 pm and additional 2 pm Saturday matinee at Newmark Theatre  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

There is no dance company in the world that has the same impact and enormous following as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The company was founded by Ailey to showcase African American dance and is now a bastion of modern and cross-genre performance. This will be the company’s sixth appearance with White Bird. Elementary-school age and older.

Tuesday and Wednesday, March 12-13, 2024, 7:30 pm at Keller Auditorium  

The Aladdin Theater

Courtesy of The Okee Dokee Brothers

The Okee Dokee Brothers 

This Grammy-winning duo (pictured above) has inspired countless plaid-shirted fans to get outside, get creative, and sing in harmony. Their latest album, Brambletown, is a semi-narrative woodland creature mosaic where “critters can talk, trees can walk, and nothing’s as it seems.” It’s a story of learning, or better yet, remembering how deeply we  are connected. Ages 4 and up 

Sunday, November 12, 11 am 

Northwest Children’s Theater 

All performances at The Judy.

The Halloween Ball

It’s Halloween every weekend at The Judy: Northwest Children’s Theater’s new home. Live performances, interactive experiences and mystifying art abounds! Don’t forget to come in costume. All ages welcome

October 14-30, Saturdays and Sundays, 11:30 am and 2:30 pm

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 

Ashamed of his shiny nose, Rudolph doesn’t feel like he belongs in Christmastown and sets off to find a place that accepts him. Along his journey, he encounters fellow misfits, only to realize that home is where he has belonged the whole time. But when a storm threatens to keep Santa’s sleigh from taking flight, it’s up to Rudolph to save Christmas! Ages 3 and up

November 25 to December 31, 11 am and 2:30 pm

Catalyst: NWCT’s Youth Company presents Annie, JR.

Set in the 1930s, Annie is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. Annie eventually foils Miss Hannigan’s evil machinations, finding a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary, Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

December 16-24

Metropolitan Youth Symphony

Courtesy of Metropolitan Youth Symphony

Music in Motion

 This dynamic concert will explore the intersection of music and animation, presenting music that has inspired animation and vice versa, through the works of Modest Mussorgsky, Paul Dukas, Joe Hisaishi, Alan Menken and local young composers. Ages 8 and up

Sunday, November 12, 7:30 pm at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Just Jimmie

 This concert will premiere orchestral adaptations of original music by guest artist Jimmie Herrod, an America’s Got Talent finalist from Portland. Rounding out the repertoire, Symphony Orchestra will perform Tomás Bretón’s En la Alhambra, Luís de Freitas Branco’s Alentejana: Suite No. 2, and she flies with her own wings by acclaimed composer and MYS artistic team member Kenji Bunch. Ages 8 and up

Tuesday, January 9, 2024, 7:30 pm at Newmark Theatre

Oregon Symphony

Courtesy of Oregon Symphony

All shows at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Music for Families Series 

One-hour concerts geared especially toward families, often with a narrative theme, children’s choir or dance troupe, and/or a narrator. Ages 5 and up.

Trills and Treasures

Sunday, November 12, 2 pm

Musical Olympics

Sunday, March 4, 2024, 2 pm

Popcorn Series

Feature films on the big screen with the Oregon Symphony performing the scores live. Age recommendations to match the movie.

Toy Story in Concert

Saturday, January 20, 2024, 7:30 pm and Sunday, January 21, 2 pm

Jurassic Park in Concert

Saturday, February 24, 2024, 7:30 pm  and Sunday, February 25,  2 pm

Holidays with the Oregon Symphony

Gospel Christmas

Saturday, December 9, 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 10, 4 pm. Ages 6 and up

A Very Merry Mariachi Christmas Concert

Monday, December 11, 7:30 pm. Ages 6 and up

The Muppet Christmas Carol in Concert

Feature film with Oregon Symphony. Saturday, December 16, 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 17, 2 pm. Ages 6 and up

Find even more holiday shows at orsymphony.org.

Portland Youth Philharmonic

Courtesy of Portland Youth Philharmonic

The Portland Youth Philharmonic is the oldest continuously running youth orchestra in the United States and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this season. PYP musicians range in age from 9 to 23 years old and perform a repertoire similar to major professional orchestras.

This Midnight Hour

Saturday, November 11, 7:30 pm at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Ages 5 and up

Fall Concert

Sunday, November 12, 4 pm, location TBD. Ages 5 and up


Tuesday, December 26, 7:30 pm at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Ages 5 and up

Camerata PYP Winter Concert

Friday, January 5, 2024, 7:30 pm, location TBD. Ages 5 and up

Winter Concert

Sunday, February 11, 2024, 4 pm, location TBD. Ages 5 and up

The Portland Ballet

Courtesy of The Portland Ballet, Credit Blaine Truitt Covert

The Enchanted Toyshop

The Portland Ballet is reviving its holiday hit over Thanksgiving weekend to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary. The magic begins when two children are left behind in a toyshop, and the Blue Fairy brings to life a parade of dancing dolls to entertain the guests. Pinocchio, playing cards and poodles are all part of the fast-paced fun. The Portland State University Orchestra will provide live accompaniment.

Saturday and Sunday, November 25-26, 1 pm and 4 pm at Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University

Oregon Children’s Theatre

Courtesy of OCT

Goodnight Moon

OCT will kick off its season with the children’s classic musical adapted for the stage by Chad Henry from the beloved book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. The story follows the bedtime routine of a young bunny saying “Goodnight” to the simple items in its room. However, the production is anything but simple: with beautiful scenery mirroring the illustrations of the picture book. Ages 3 and up

Sunday, January 14 to Sunday, February 11, 2024 at Winningstad Theatre

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical 

When teenager Percy Jackson discovers he’s a demigod, he and his friends embark on an epic journey to find Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and prevent a war among the gods. Based on the best-selling Percy Jackson & the Olympians book series by Rick Riordan, the show features a rock score and shares messages of strength, perseverance, tenacity and believing in yourself. Ages 8 and up

Sunday, January 21 to Sunday, February 18, 2024 at Newmark Theatre


OCT’s award-winning Young Professionals Company opens the season with Spider, a brand-new work commissioned by the Young Professionals and written by Madeleine Adriance, a former Young Professional. The production will explore themes around social media and artificial intelligence, rising gun violence and school shootings, and the effect they all have on teen mental health. Ages 14 and up (restricted for mature content).

Friday, October 20 to Sunday, November 5; Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm,
Sundays at 2 pm; ASL Interpreted Performance Saturday, October 28 at 7:30 pm at Curious Comedy Theater

The Reser

Courtesy of The Reser, Credit John Clayton

Reser Presents: Kids’ New Year’s Eve

This event will fill nearly all the Reser’s spaces and will be an exciting offering from legendary local musician and children’s music educator, Aaron Nigel Smith. All ages welcome, most enjoyed by ages 3-10

Sunday, December 31, 11 am-2 pm

Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band

Husband-and-wife team, Lucky Diaz and Alisha Gaddis, bring their exuberance, bilingual lyrics and musical prowess to high-energy performances for kids. All ages welcome, most enjoyed by ages 4-10

Saturday, November 4, 11 am

North: The Musical

This musical was developed  over the course of four years (spanning the pandemic) by a team of prolific musicians, visionary artists, and awe-inspiring performers. Led by the acclaimed kindie musician Ashli St. Armant (aka Jazzy Ash), North (pictured above) is a story that explores Black American life during the antebellum period and aims to bring out the full range of experiences of freedom seekers. While acknowledging the realities of slavery, the narrative and original musical compositions explore themes of optimism, bravery, playfulness, wonder, suspense and mystery. Ages 10 and older

Saturday, February 3, 2024, 3 pm and 7 pm

Can’t get enough live theater? See our Performing Arts Guide for a comprehensive look at the 2023-24 season.

Stephanie Gehring
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