Here’s how to have fun with your kids during a play, concert or ballet at one of Portland’s youth performing arts organizations.
Whether the pandemic put a hard kibosh on your family’s performing-arts involvement, or whether your family’s never seen a show, this is a wonderful time to come out for one. Performing arts are coming back strong in Portland, and from Northwest Children’s Theater — in its new downtown home! — to the Oregon Symphony, family-friendly shows abound. If you have any trepidation about how to approach taking a kiddo to shows, here’s some advice for parents from Portland’s performing-arts professionals on how to have a memorable, positive experience.
Rachael Brown of Northwest Children’s Theater (NWCT), Russell Kelban of the Oregon Symphony, and Nik Whitcomb of Bag&Baggage, all agreed that when they put on shows specifically for families and young audiences, it’s a given that kids are going to move and make noise.
“We are expecting a more fun, exciting atmosphere,” says Brown, who is NWCT’s director of marketing and communications.
The performers likely will ask the audience questions. It’s also OK or even encouraged to get up and dance. And they sometimes include young performers to help a younger audience identify. Engagement is a must — the Oregon Symphony’s family shows, for example, are not “just orchestra.” These shows create an overall narrative, often with a narrator and they include youth choruses and dance troupes. There are activities (sometimes even food) in the lobby beforehand, so that you can come early and give your youngsters time to get used to the space. For anyone who needs it, many venues also have a “restless room.” NWCT also has sensory-friendly shows, and Oregon Children’s Theatre (OCT) provides free sensory kits at check-in.
“Prepare your kids for the experience they’re about to have,” says Artistic Director Whitcomb. “‘We’re going to see a play. Do you know what that is?’ Talk to them about etiquette. Compare the performance to things that they know. And if the show is themed around a book or show, making sure they are familiar with that material will make things a lot more fun.”
An etiquette talk for a young, first-time audience member might run like this: “There will be performers up on the stage playing music or singing or dancing or acting or talking to us. We want to give them our attention! And we will have a little area with seats just for us. You are welcome to get up and wiggle and dance in that area, but please don’t climb all over other people’s seats! Also, there are going to be staircases with big steps. Hold my hand so you don’t trip. And on the way out, make sure you hold my hand extra tightly, because there will be a lot of people going out all at once, and it is easy to get lost.”
Christopher Carvalho, the director of communications at White Bird encourages parents to come by the marketing table beforehand, to get a boa and take a selfie with the white bird, and to pick up earplugs in case their seats are close to the speakers.
Then, talk to your kiddos about the performance afterward. Talk about how you felt, what you noticed. Practice your own communal storytelling as you relive the experience together. Or if you’ve got an introvert who needs quiet processing time, respect that. Companies often send surveys, and rely heavily on them to direct future programming. You might ask your kids the questions on the surveys, or if they’re old enough, let them fill them out.
Ready to get out there? Here’s what’s playing in the Portland area this spring!
- 11 Family-Friendly Bookstores in the Portland Area - November 6, 2023
- Why the Arts Matter + Portland-Area Live Performances - October 2, 2023
- Portland’s Youth Performing Arts Spring Lineup - April 6, 2023