The performing arts are an integral part of human history. For hundreds of years, this has been the medium used by our ancestors to tell stories, share history, and express their interpretations of the world around them. As a storytelling tool and as a way to explore historical context (both ancient and modern), it’s important to take children to the theater for a variety of reasons. But how does it benefit your child? What is theater etiquette?
The Denver Center for Performing Arts’ Director of Communications and Content Marketing, Suzanne Yoe, and Allison Watrous, the Executive Director of Education, weigh in with their expertise.
Theater is largely a tool for self-discovery and education which in turn sparks creativity. After their first theater show, your child will likely be more interested in how they can get involved with theater productions and may even foster a life-long interest in the art.
“We have amazing students who come to our programs that are very interested in theater as a career, acting as a career, or directing as a career. But, the benefit is miles beyond that,” says Watrous. “It’s about confidence, it’s about putting your voice into the world, it’s about the empowerment of self in the world, telling your own story, and carving your own path in terms of an artistic process which can transfer to so many different pathways in life. It’s really about activating curiosity and creativity and what they do to fuel a person, especially a young person.”
Another benefit of going to the theater, especially as a family, is having a shared connection and an experience to talk about.
After the show, Watrous and Yoe encourage parents to talk about what they’ve seen, the lessons in the performance, and how things like special effects and surprises made the experience so exciting.
“How fabulous it is to share stories with your family!” gushes Watrous. “Stories help connect us to humanity, to each other, and learn something. You can have a powerful conversation if you’ve shared and seen something together. It’s possible to have a family come to the show together so you can talk about it and share that experience because the live experience is happening there, and you get to share with your young person the power of storytelling and what we can learn about the world and each other through the power of story. That is powerful at any age.”
In classic theater, there are plenty of etiquette rules to adhere to. It’s a good rule of thumb to arrive early, visit the bathroom before the show and between acts, keep your space clean, and minimize talking and other noise making during the performance.
For children’s theater, there are different sets of expectations when it comes to etiquette and behavior. Since the Denver Center offers plenty of child-friendly productions, children are welcome to make noise, laugh when a joke lands, react to the stimuli on stage, and generally be responsive to the action on stage.
Being responsive in this respect is about being engaged–actors enjoy seeing people lean in and support the watching experiences of themselves and other audience members while being able to express themselves through their reactions. Theater isn’t entirely about sitting still and just watching; it’s meant to be a sensory and emotional experience.
Ease Your Parental Anxiety
When you do settle in for the performance, a pre-show announcement will further explain the etiquette expected of you along with other relevant information like where exits and bathrooms are or sometimes even content warnings for the show.
Additionally, it may be a good idea to seek out a sensory guide that warns both parents and children of any special effects that may be used, making the experience more friendly for both neurotypical children who may be anxious about what to expect and neurodivergent children who may have sensory sensitivities.
Other than that, if you’re still nervous about how your child may behave or even if they will disturb others in the audience, Yoe shares her personal experience introducing theater to her young daughter.
“I took my daughter when she was five to her first musical: Mama Mia. I, of course, was just terrified that she would be misbehaving and I’d have to tell her to sit down, not move, don’t dance, and I think my advice to parents is to also be mindful of the people around you. If you take your cues from the people around you, as a parent, I would have been so much more reassured than I was at that moment because they were actually enjoying that musical more through her wiggling, her enjoyment, and the thrill of it.”
All-in-all, going to the theater is an enriching experience that opens doors for your child to explore the arts, get involved, and give back to their community by finding something they really enjoy and may like to pursue themselves.