Child's play

Youngsters learn performance etiquette so as not to spoil the experience of others

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2000

Entertainer W.C. Fields was once asked if he liked children.

``Depends on how they're cooked,'' he replied.

Excited, talkative or downright naughty children can ruin a performance. But many Juneau arts groups love to see kids at shows and make special efforts to accommodate them.

Standards are different for different events, and it can be tricky for parents to know what's appropriate.

At concerts for kids, the rules are pretty basic.

``No climbing on the stage or pulling at stuff,'' said Julie Pigott, who recently organized and performed in Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, a children's concert.

``There's an expectation that kids are joyful and expressive, and they want to move,'' Pigott said. ``Kids concerts tend to be very interactive, with audience participation - and parents are expected to model that.''

Perseverance Theatre asks parents to leave children under six at home unless the show is specifically designed for kids or families.

Perseverance's marketing directing Darius Mannino said parents should consider two basic rules with kids and theater.

``Is it appropriate, and second, will it hold the child's interest?'' he said. ``Each child is an individual, and it's hard to make a blanket statement.''

Attention span is critical, he said. Parents may want to see the show once and then decide if it would be good for their children to see.

Mannino portrayed Romeo in Perseverance's ``Romeo and Juliet.'' The play had a number of teen-agers in the cast, and a number of teen-agers attended the show. He said he was glad they came, but they tended to get up frequently and move around a lot, coming in and out of the theater.

Middle school-age kids, on the other hand, were very engaged in ``Romeo and Juliet'' during the school in-reach program. Students came into the theater for a special presentation of part of the show, and then asked questions.

``They asked great questions. They really wanted to figure it out. They were obviously interested and excited by it,'' he said. ``Part of why we try to get kids in here is to teach etiquette, to get them used to the live medium of theater. They're participating in it. As an audience, you're part of the show. And you have to learn that. You don't just know that.''

Jetta Whittaker is a mother of two pre-school age children. She's also a musician and the administrator for the Juneau Symphony, and she can appreciate both sides of the issue. She said it's basically common sense.

``Just being able to sit still and not bother the people around you. Symphonic concerts can be hard for young kids to sit through - I don't think my kids are old enough yet,'' she said.

Whittaker said she likes to bring her children to dress rehearsals, to get them used to the environment. She said parents may want to consider bringing their children to part of a concert, rather than expect them to sit through the whole performance. She also said the high school auditorium has a small crying room in the back.

Linda Rosenthal, a professional violinist, said it's important for kids to be exposed to live music at a young age, and to have concert-going be a natural part of their lives.

``Sometimes, I think it's good for kids to sit up front. The sight line is good and they feel more involved. It's important to have a teacher or parent up there - just that presence is good,'' she said.

However, the up-close approach may not work as well at Perseverance Theatre, Mannino said.

``Parents should sit near an exit if they know they may want to have to deal with a child,'' he said. ``If you're going to be engaged in parenting, you don't want to sit in the front row. Otherwise, you may become part of the show if everyone's watching you discipline your child.''

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