How to Make a Trip to the Theatre a Family Bonding Experience

Special Features   How to Make a Trip to the Theatre a Family Bonding Experience
Teaching your children about the performing arts is more than just buying tickets—here are some tips to make the experience of attending a show into a longer lasting one.
44th Street
44th Street Marc J. Franklin

For many families, a Broadway show means a day in the city, but for the Shadricks it’s an adventure that starts months earlier. As a busy mom of three with a demanding professional career, Anna Shadrick views every Broadway ticket as an opportunity to bond with each of her children: 10-year-old twins Michael and Elias, and 8-year old-daughter Irene. This busy mom’s goal is to select at least one Broadway performance each year that reflects her children’s individual personalities and can provide engaging opportunities leading up to the event.

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“The fun really begins once I purchase that ticket,” Shadrick said. “I like to create excitement leading up to the event.”
However, Shadrick created a lot more work than excitement this past summer when she and her son Michael saw both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theater. She compared it to “prepping for an exam.” “I missed the Potter bandwagon when it began and I’m not particularly into fantasy literature, but Michael kept me accountable and wanted me to be completely Potterized before the big day.”

Shadrick listened to the seven-part book series during her daily commute from Staten Island to New Jersey and would also refer to the physical books for clarification on details such as names; she never knew when Michael would spontaneously quiz her on Voldemort’s real name (answer: Tom Marvolo Riddle) or Dumbledore’s full name (answer: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore). In April, she and Michael also binge-watched the entire eight-part film collection. She estimated that her preparation time easily exceeded 150 hours.

For Irene, she chose the musical Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. “Irene wants to be a baker when she grows up, so it seemed appropriate,” she said. That is until they got to the theatre, and she realized that Irene was the youngest attendee and some of the content was aimed at a mature audience. “She liked the show, but what she remembers most are all the pies we baked leading up to it from the book Sugar, Butter, Flour: The Waitress Pie Book. Unfortunately, my hips haven’t forgotten either.”

Shadrick describes Elias as an “old soul” and chose Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for their adventure. The cast album for Beautiful became a staple for the morning drive to school and Shadrick sees the lyrics containing important messages for her son and the bond that they share.

Shadrick encourages parents to have dates with their children and to seek out Broadway as the foundation for creating meaningful experiences. Below she shares some of her tried-and-true advice:

  • The first act begins way before the actual performance. Theatre can serve as a transformational experience that begins once you have bought that ticket. The performance should be a culmination of many shared engagements that occur as part of the lead-in to the big day.
  • Keep an open mind. There is no shortage of family-friendly Broadway performances to choose from, but you may want to consider some choices that are off the beaten path or in a genre that you’re not typically interested in. Real growth and learning happen when we’re operating outside our set boundaries.
  • Make it personal. Identifying a show that speaks to the qualities you appreciate in your child will also serve as acknowledgment that you understand who they are. Your selection may be reflected in the storyline, but it may also manifest in the humor, tone, or energy of the performance that matches your child’s disposition.
  • Have fun. A surefire way to become a killjoy and sabotage the best of intentions and plans is to actually not enjoy it yourself. Children know when we’re faking it. Give yourself permission to let loose and be silly.

The Shadricks are preparing for their first family affair this upcoming winter and have set their sights on Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. However, there’s one thing they will not be doing to prepare: “No duels.”

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