I took my daughter to her first live theater performance just shy of her first birthday. I was convinced that the pageantry of the annual production of The Nutcracker Suite would thrill my budding thespian, and I was right. She crowed and cooed gleefully throughout the colorful display on the stage, often clapping her tiny hands in excitement. But the baleful glances of several nearby patrons made me ask myself whether I had introduced her to live theater a little too early.

“Attending a live theatre performance can be a magical and memorable experience for even young children,” writes the Broadway Theatre League on its website. “Done well, you will be planting the seeds of appreciation in a young patron for a love of live theatre. Done poorly, you can create an awful experience for your child and the people seated around him/her.”

Perfect performance

So, if you’re planning to take your child to the theater this holiday season, keep that in mind. Select an age-appropriate production—preferably one that is less than an hour.

“Once you have verified that this is a good production for a child…you should begin to prepare your child for the trip,” advises musical-theater-kids.com. “Explain what they will be seeing, that you are taking them to an exciting live theater performance. Familiarize them with the characters, the plot, the setting, etc. If there is a book about the play, read it with them. [And] instruct the child as to how they will be expected to behave.”

For example, your child should know that:

  • She will have to stay quiet and seated throughout most of the live show.
  • No talking is allowed. And fidgeting should be kept to a minimum.
  • Food and drinks are discouraged.
  • He should use the bathroom before the show or during intermission.
  • The theater will be dark and there may be loud sounds that are startling.

We returned to The Nutcracker Suite again the next year, and the next, and the next, with some years more successful than others. I would not recommend that every production is appropriate for every child. But my daughter’s rapt wonder at the spectacle on stage provided a simple joy—hers in the show, mine in her enjoyment of it. That’s what keeps us coming back for more, making live theater a treasured tradition for our family.

Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer from New Jersey and the mother of two.