There are certain events that have become a fixture on the theatrical calendar, and which theatregoers look forward to every year, such as West End Live, the Laurence Olivier Awards, West End Bares, and more. Right around the corner is Kids Week, which for those who may not know, is a popular annual event that runs a ‘Kids Go Free’ scheme with the intent of encouraging young people to get involved in theatre. Kids Week 2015 opens for booking on 16th June and runs throughout the whole of August, with over 40 shows participating in this year’s event. This includes many of the big West End shows, such as Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Matilda and Billy Elliot, alongside other London productions perhaps more suited to the youngest audience, such as Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, The Gruffalo, Horrible Histories and Aliens Love Underpants. The way it works is that kids between the ages of five and sixteen can go free to any of the participating shows when an accompanying adult buys a full price ticket, with the added option of purchasing two extra kids tickets at half price.
There are so many theatrical events running throughout the year, but something like Kids Weeks is one of the most important in my eyes, because it not only includes young people, but is specifically aimed at them. Too many people are of the opinion that the theatre is no place for kids, and that has to change as our youth are perhaps the most vital members of any audience. The theatre is a wonderful thing for many people and we should be encouraging our kids to become a part of that as much as possible. Here are some of the reasons why:
The most obvious reason of all is that the kids of today are going to be the audience of tomorrow. The world is ever-changing and so are all the people in it. Today’s theatregoers won’t be here forever, and unless there are new theatregoers to take our place, the theatre industry dies with us. It’s up to us, here and now, to create tomorrow’s audience and not only keep theatre alive, but make it bigger and better than ever. Kids need to experience the theatre from a young age to develop a love of the art, and we need to encourage and nurture that love so that it grows into a life-long passion that hopefully, they will one day pass on to the next generation after that and continue the cycle.
Theatre audiences can be pretty bad. Not every member of the audience of course, but there are plenty of people out there who either don’t know how to behave when visiting the theatre, or just don’t care. All the time, we hear horror stories from theatregoers about fellow audience members who disrupted a show by talking, using their phone, eating, being drunk, making noise, acting aggressive or abusive, filming, taking pictures… the list goes on. It’s happened to me so many times, and it really can detract from the theatre experience. Theatre is so accessible nowadays and actively works to welcome people from all walks of life, which is by no means a bad thing. The problem with the ‘open door’ policy though is that it admits people who don’t appreciate or respect the show, the cast and/or the audience. There are general rules that everyone should follow when seeing a show, and if we bring kids along and take the time to teach them this theatre etiquette, then in the future audiences will know how to behave and the overall experience should be much improved for everyone. My daughter has been coming to the theatre with me since she was six, and because of that, she knows how to behave there and often puts the older members of the audience to shame in terms of theatre etiquette. I’ve had people tell me my child shouldn’t be in the theatre, but she’s the one who has been sat there quietly enjoying the show while they’ve been rude, disrespectful and disruptive… so which of them belongs there and which one doesn’t? The worst audience members are adults, not kids, most of the time. The young theatre-goers are taught to respect the theatre experience and everyone sharing in it with them, and honestly, they could teach the grown-ups a thing or two about theatre etiquette!
Kids today are becoming more and more anti-social it seems. They’re online, or watching TV, playing video games, or on their phones. They communicate through text message, Facebook, Twitter, email… Taking them to the theatre brings them back to the real world and encourages them to participate in it by actually experiencing the world in person and interacting with others through actual face-to-face conversation. Theatre is different to TV and computers and so forth as it is social entertainment, up close and personal. It’s people, live on stage right in front of you, sitting all around you…it’s unique and memorable, and completely fantastic. I truly believe that theatre can enrich you as a person. One of the most special parts of taking my daughter to the theatre with me was seeing her get swept up in the emotion of the music, the story and the performances. Her ability to connect so strongly to the show brings so much joy, and not only to me, but other members of the audience. I’ve often had people at the theatre comment on how lovely it is to see a young child enjoy a show so much. My daughter has a wonderful ability to empathise and is so in touch with her emotions, as well as being someone who is very accepting, non-judgemental and above all, incredibly creative. I really think that the theatre has helped her to develop these wonderful qualities, and it’s part of why I will always, always encourage people to share the theatre experience with their children.
Theatre is all about creativity and it can be a source of inspiration for anyone, but children are so much more open to influence and a passion for something later in life can often be traced back to those early years. An enduring love of theatre will most likely have begun in childhood, so if you want to pass yours on to your child, the best chance is to take them with you from a young age. It’s not just about creating a love for theatre though. The experience can inspire your child’s creativity, with so many varying and wonderful results. Many West End leading men and ladies got into the profession because they were inspired by a show or performer as a child; Ramin Karimloo, for instance, saw Colm Wilkinson in The Phantom of the Opera on a school trip and was inspired to pursue a career on the stage. He’s now a huge West End and Broadway star, and it all goes back to that early childhood experience. Who knows what future stage stars are sitting in the audience today, being inspired by the stars of today? Theatre can inspire kids to become actors, or singers, or dancers…it can inspire them to become artists, or writers, or musicians. It can lead to new discoveries, as a child who goes to see Matilda The Musical or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory may subsequently pick up Roald Dahl’s original books and develop a love of reading. The possibilities are endless, and it can all begin with one little show.
Yes! Above all else, theatre can quite simply be incredibly fun, for everyone. It’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time together as a family, have a great outing together, and create some beautiful memories. There’s no distractions like phones, TV, or computer games, it’s just time together, having fun. The more of that, the better!
Schemes like Kids Week aim to involve young people in theatre, but it’s the parents who are the most important and influential factors in children developing a love of theatre. Take them, as often as you can. Talk to them about it, listen to cast recordings…do everything you can to show them how great the theatre is, and you’ll not only be doing something wonderful for them, but also playing a part in ensuring the future of the theatre industry for many more years to come.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Thursday 28th May 2015