Three Tried & Tested Tips to Taking Your Toddler to the Theater
Yes, you read the title right. You can introduce art and culture events and activities -- like going to the theater -- to your toddlers as early as they're able to sit through a full-length Disney movie or binge watch a whole season of Peppa Pig! And I don't mean the movie theater, I mean THE theater -- live, on-stage theater. I can't remember when and where I watched my first theater stage show, but I remember it was "Aladdin" and that from that moment on I fell in love with the theater -- and this love for theater was something that I wanted to share with my daughter.
So after a successful dose of "pop culture" (watching Captain America: Civil War in a movie theater haha), I knew I had to balance that with some "art culture" -- and what says "art" and "culture" more than the theater right? Now you might already be thinking, "Yeah, that's nice, but not with MY toddler! We might just get kicked out of the theater!"
Fear not momma, I had the same worries. My daughter rarely sits through a fairytale story book, so I thought, "Gosh, what more a 2-hour theater stage show where it's basically just people telling a story on stage? 😳😳😳😳
But to my surprise I did not have as much "toddler trouble" as I expected when I took my daughter to the theater. So when you do decide to go, here are...
1. Buy the best tickets early
I'm going to say it straight, theater tickets are expensive BUT they are also worth it. If you're going to take your kids to the theater, might as well get them the best seats in the house, or at least the best seats you can afford.
But to make sure you DON'T break the bank and spend the entire show with buyer's remorse, BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY. Theater tickets are usually available as early as 3 months before the actual show date, so keep an eye out!
Why? Because unlike movie tickets, theater tickets are ALWAYS cheaper the farther away it is from the show date. I got us the best seats in the house (first row, center stage) for last year's Disney On Ice as early as September and the price I paid for our TWO TICKETS was the price that ONE TICKET cost by November -- in the same seating area on the same show date. 😱😱😱
PLUS there are also usually SPECIAL DISCOUNTS for EARLY BIRDS, STUDENTS, and TODDLERS. (Not to mention PWDs, Senior Citizens, Government Employees and even Young Professionals).
Some shows even partner with sponsors that give special discounts. Like the recently concluded Swan Lake by Ballet Philippines from their 47th Season: Wings, performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where and Joseph Phillips (Principal Dancer at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre). They offered 30% discount for SM Advantage Card holders.
2. Prepare them for the experience
Weeks Before the Show: While researching online for what shows were coming up that my 3 year-old daughter would appreciate, she was right there beside me looking excitedly at the colorful and animated posters of the many theater event choices online. Though there was no way I could take her to all of them, it was still fun for her to see the possibilities and point to the posters that caught her eye. 😊
Days Before the Show: So as not to damage or misplace the tickets, I try to pick them up only days before the show (if that's an option) or keep them tucked away in my drawer (if they're delivered shortly after purchase). Once I get them though or when it's a good week before the event, I show the tickets to my daughter to remind her about it and to rekindle her excitement.
We pick out her outfit, talk about who else is joining us for the show (if you decide to make this a mother-daughter date with your other momma friends), and what she can expect from the event (like it will be in a theater, they will dim or turn off all the lights and only the lights on stage will be visible, we need to whisper when we talk if we need anything, etc.).
Hours Before the Show: Although there are matinée (afternoon) shows, like last year's Cinderella by Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's, Ballet Manila, some shows are best seen in gala performances that are usually in the evening, like last week's staging of Swan Lake by Ballet Philippines that besides having international guest dancers in the lead roles, even had the additional treat of live music from the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Yoshikazu Fukumura.
So if you're watching a gala show, make sure to feed your kids before you leave for the theater, bring snacks for the road and to eat during the show's intermission (which is usually a good 20-30 minutes long), and have a dinner plan for after the show (if you live near the theater, make sure dinner is ready when you come home or if you live far from the theater, scout for nearby restaurant you can head to right after the show).
Minutes Before the Show: It's best to arrive at the theater at least 30 minutes before the doors open so you have enough time for a bathroom break, join up with your companions (if you're seeing the show with other people), buy a souvenir program, etc. It's best to settle into your seats as soon as the theater doors open to give your kids enough time to get used to the "feel" of the venue and answer as much of the many questions they are sure have before the show begins.
During the Show: I'm telling you now, there is NO WAY that your children will NOT talk during the show. No matter how amazing everything is that's going on on that stage, your child will talk. My daughter said "Hi Cinderella! at the top of her lungs when the dancer playing Cinderella walked on stage. 🙈🙈🙈 My friend's 2 year-old kept saying "Watch ballet."while pointing to the stage multiple times when we watched Swan Lake.
And although we don't want to ruin our kids' theater experience by constantly shushing them or whispering "when we get home" threats, we also don't want to ruin the theater experiences of the people around us. So this is the best time to whip out that souvenir program you bought before the show and try to guide your child along what he/she is seeing on stage. This usually helps settle them back in their seats and re-engage them in the performance.
After the Show: Unless someone has to go to the bathroom right away, try to wait till everybody files out of the theater. The house lights come back on and you're given a few precious minutes in an opportune setting to take some time and process the show with your kids.
Siegfried (Joseph Phillips, Principal Dancer at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre) and Odette (Candce Adea, Soloist at The Hong Kong Ballet and Dancer at the BalletMet in Ohio, USA) die at the end of Swan Lake, they throw themselves off a cliff into stormy waters and drown, which is actually pretty morbid for a toddler. So I had to explain this in a way that doesn't magnify suicide as "okay."
Instead I just explained that "the Prince and Swan Princess" sacrificed their lives to "beat the Bad Guy" (the "Devil") so that the other Swan Maidens could be free because it was the love of the Prince and Swan Princess that broke the Bad Guy's evil spell.
3. Document their experience (not yours!)
This may sound silly to some and might even be offensive to others, but honestly, when something amazing or awe-inspiring comes up in front of you, isn't your first instinct to bring out your phone and start taking pictures of it? Of course right? And that's not a bad thing!
BUT have you tried turning the camera the opposite direction and onto the face of your kids?
I took my daughter to Disney On Ice on New Year's Day this year, and I don't know what came over me but the moment the music played and the lights came on the ice and Mickey Mouse & Friends glided onto the stage, I brought out my camera just like every person in the Mall of Asia Arena, but instead of the stage, I took a video of my daughter's reaction of what was unfolding on stage and it was PRICELESS. Best part of the whole show actually.
So sure, take pictures of your kids in their snazzy OOTDs and by all means take selfies with the show's cast, but also please do try to capture candid moments of your child's sense of wonder 😊 -- it is truly a magnificent treasure that unfortunately doesn't last forever.