At a ceremony at City Hall, NY Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will officially declare Jan. 28 "Kids Night On Broadway," an event launched to bring the next generation to Broadway. In even bigger political news, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has been named Honorary Chair of the free "Kids Theatre Festival" that night.
Event spokesperson Peter Cromarty said it's impossible to tell until the last minute whether Clinton will actually attend the event. "If she does come, we figure she'll make a nice speech saying how wonderful the program is to bring kids back to Broadway."
The Festival, running 4 to 6:30 PM, is designed by Heidi Landesmann (with lighting by Paul Gallo) and mixes the approach of a college job fair with the glamour and fun of Broadway. There will be 22 booths representing the Broadway shows participating in "Kids Night." "For example," said Cromarty, "the Vic/Vic people will teach kids the tango; the Cats booth will do face-painting." The idea is to give children a first-hand experience of Broadway and to provide pre-show entertainment before the 7 PM curtain of that evening's participating Broadway performances.
Here's the "Kids Night" plan: As part of a plan to make Broadway more kid friendly, two Broadway organizations announced Oct. 16 that a parent who buys tickets to Broadway shows for Jan. 28, 1997 will be able to get a second ticket -- free -- for a child ages 6 to 18. Better move quickly; at least one of the shows, The Phantom of the Opera, is already sold out on that date.
In addition to the big night, Jan. 28, the entire week of Jan. 27 will be kid oriented with the "Only Broadway For Kids Club," which allows members "the opportunity to shadow some of the major palyers in the theatre community to gain first-hand experience and a better understanding of the theatre world." Participants will include everyone from ushers to industry leaders. Spokespersons Marlo Thomas, Wendy Wasserstein and Jasmine Guy announced the program designed by the Theatre Development Fund and The League Of American Theatres And Producers to bring kids back to the theatre.
Titled "Kids Night On Broadway," the program will also create an ongoing "Broadway Kids Club," to be launched on the same date. That night, kids also will get to eat free at (at least) 11 Broadway-area restaurants, including Sardi's and Broadway Joe's. To accommodate school responsibilities, all shows participating in "Kids Night" will begin at 7 PM instead of the usual 8 PM curtain.
Among the 22 shows currently participating are Beauty And The Beast, Bring In `Da Noise, Chicago, Rent, Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard and Once Upon A Mattress. Off Broadway shows taking part include I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, Stomp and Cowgirls. For full information on the program, call (212)563-BWAY.
Kids' Night on Broadway will be the first in a series of regular offers enabling young people (age 6-18) to attend the theatre. Virtually every show playing on Broadway will schedule an early curtain at 7 PM. Every child accompanied by an adult on this night will see the show of their choice (based on ticket availability) for free. Before these early shows, in recognition of the special audience, all performers will appear on stage to welcome and applaud the families for their participation. The nearly 10,000 expected attendees of Kids' Night will receive special show mementos and be automatically enrolled in the Broadway Kids' Club, which will provide a regular newsletter of Broadway happenings and ongoing special events.
"Every theatre lover remembers their first Broadway show," says League Executive Director Jed Bernstein. "Kids' Night on Broadway and The Broadway Kids' Club represent an active effort on the part of the industry to create a new generation of theatregoers and to make the magic of Broadway accessible to more families."
At a morning press conference announcing the event, League of American Theatres & Producers Executive Director, Jed Bernstein, called "Kids Night" an "industry-wide initiative." "Producers are donating all tickets," Bernstein said, "and when you call for tickets, there won't even be the usual service charge. It's free." Grownups will pay the service charge on their tickets, but there will be no service charge for the free kids' tickets.
Publicity will also be important to the campaign. "Our advertising firm, Serino Coyne, has helped raise $250,000 for advertising," Bernstein continued, "and Playbill has donated free space in the magazine for the project."
Wendy Wasserstein, Marlo Thomas and Nathan Lane will all be involved iin print and radio promos for the event (Bernstein played Lane's amusing radio ad at the press conference).
Bernstein then went on to briefly explain his "funnel theory" of theatregoing, which has to do with parents who were taken to the theatre when young growing up and bringing THEIR kids to a show. "We need to get more people at the top of the funnel," Bernstein analogized, "so more people are coming through the bottom."
The League Executive Director then backed up this metaphor with statistics: "In 1981, about 19% of the theatregoing audience was under the age of 25. In 1991, that percentage was down to 14%.
Marlo Thomas then came to the podium and reminisced about being with her dad (Danny Thomas) on studio sets in Hollywood. "Being there, learning the lingo...helped me feel entitled. It made me believe I could have a starring role in life, as well as onstage. And kids need to feel that Broadway isn't a strange, scary place for grown-ups. It's for everyone."
Jasmine Guy, currently preparing for her fourth stint on Broadway (this time as Rizzo in Grease), remembers living in New York for eight years and, at age 8 or 9, being entranced the first time she saw the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Then, at age 14, she took a class trip to New York and saw eight shows, which also changed her life.
"Film acting is kind of a fake," Guy explained, "you get to do it again and again if you mess up. Theatre teaches you discipline, and you can use that throughout your life."
The last speaker, Wendy Wasserstein, recalled her thrill at realizing that New York theatre wasn't just one playhouse, but an entire district. "New York has a fur district AND a theatre district," she joked, "imagine! A place where theatre is as important as fur!" [Fur, of course, figured prominently in Wasserstein's play, The Sisters Rosensweig.]
"When I was younger I saw My Fair Lady, Jenny, All American -- and I watched grown-ups doing something they loved in their life. And watching Sisters Rosensweig one night, I realized that was the kind of play I remembered seeing when I was younger. In a way, I was recreating that experience."
Wrapping up the press conference, Jed Bernstein reiterated The League and TDF's commitment to "re-establishing theatre as part of the full entertainment menu."
As yet another incentive for parents and children to participate in "Kids Night On Broadway," Metro-North will offer free rides to any children riding to or from a show that day. They must show their special theatre ticket, and they must be accompanied by a parent paying a full Metro North fare.
Other theatre programs that currently integrate teens into New York theatre include Camp Broadway, Midtown Management Group's "Inside Broadway" series, and TaDa!'s acting program.
Mark Wilder, Public Relations Director for The Midtown Management Group, noted that the Kids Night idea came out of (among other programs) Teacher's Night On Broadway (sponsored by the United Teacher's Federation and Theatre Development Fund) -- an arts and education program designed to get teachers to use theatre as a learning tool.