One of the advantages of living in a city like Chicago is the plethora of options for live entertainment, much of it free or low cost, that fill our stages, parks, and amphitheaters on a regular basis. In the past year we've been to concerts, gallery openings, live podcasts, plays, pro sports competitions, comic book conventions, and book launches—just to name a few.
It does beg the question, though: When should you start taking your kids to these? In other words, how young is too young? How do you make sure they behave in a way that isn't disruptive to other theater-goers and still have a good time?
This past weekend we had the opportunity to take both Little Dragans (now aged 8 and 5) to see the Broadway in Chicago production of Les Miserables. It was at the gorgeous Cadillac theater with exceptionally talented leads and a truly moving portrayal of Jean Valjean. I've seen the show many times now, but the actor really brought something special to the role. Look out for Nick Cartell if you're lucky enough to have the touring production come through your town!
Enough about me, though.
How did the kids do?
And should you really spend that much money taking a 5-year-old to a play like that?
Here are five tips to make your theater experience more enjoyable!
1. Matinee, matinee, matinee.
Most Chicago theaters don't even begin their evening performances until 7:30 pm, which will mean your kiddo is already in a race against the clock to "Fall Apart Thirty" before the curtain is even up on the second act. Matinee shows are just as good, and you're more likely to have other kids in the audience. I think audience members expect more kids at the matinee performance too, so they tend to be more tolerant of a few wiggles than their prime time counterparts.
2. Bottles of water and Red Vines for the win.
After making the terrible mistake of not buying a bottle of water before one play, Little Guy spent the whole first act whisper-screaming, "Aaaaaaack *indiscernable throat noise* it's so thirsty in here!!" Trapped in our seats until intermission, I was left with no choice but to shush him uselessly until we could buy the stupid $3 bottle that I had been too cheap to buy before the show started. I shan't make that mistake again!
Don't be like me.
Buy the bottle.
Small sips so as not to need the bathroom break. Which brings me to tip #3...
3. Use the bathroom before the show.
The doors open thirty minutes ahead of time and there is no prize for getting to your assigned seats first. It's actually just more will power/sitting still time being wasted on non-show moments, so don't bother. Take that time to hit up the bathroom before there are any lines. The line for the ladies room at Les Mis during intermission was a literal Disney World-style snaking business that filled the entire lower lobby.
Every single woman that walked down the stairs said the same thing, "That can't be the line, can it?"
It can be.
Oh, and it definitely was.
4. Seat boosters.
At the coat check of many theaters in Chicago, seat boosters are offered free of charge. These serve two equally valuable purposes. The first is that they prevent your child's view from being blocked and eliciting whisper-screams of, "I can't seeeee." The second is that they make it significantly more difficult for your child to make a game of bouncing up and down on the pop up seats throughout the play.
Note how high up the children are sitting. Thank you, seat boosters. Not pictured: bag of snacks and water bottle.
If you're like me as a parent, you sometimes get so worried that your child's behavior is ruining someone else's ticketed experience that you do ruin an important experience: your own.
Nine times out of ten, your own child is not being as loud or as wiggly as you feel like they are, you're just hyper aware of it because it's your kid.
Relax. Set a reasonable standard for correction, and try to enjoy the show.
B and Little Guy are happy to report that they LOVED the show. They've spent the last three days singing "Do you hear the people sing?" around the house and noting thoughtfully that you should never turn your back on an angry French militia (poor Gavroche). Mission: accomplished.
There will be patrons of the arts who disagree with me, but I believe children should be present at as many different kinds of shows as possible, and from a young age. Broadway in Chicago sets age 5 as the lower age limit to be granted entry, and I feel like that's appropriate. A good conversation with kids ahead of time is nice to set some ground rules, but I wouldn't avoid shows just because you're worried a child *might* get bored or restless. (*Spoiler: they probably will. It's ok.*).
After all, if you never take kids to plays, or the symphony, or the opera, how will they ever learn how to behave at them?
Or how to appreciate them at all?
Thanks for reading! For for more tips on exploring Chicago with your kids, check out www.rickshawreggie.com or follow me on Instagram @RickshawReggie. Keep exploring!