Let’s just forget about getting kids to go to the theater.

“Let’s get kids to see Broadway shows,” blah, blah, blah.

That’s what I hear repeated ad nauseam from everyone interested in the future of Broadway, including me (check out this post from last week to hear my latest whine about it).

Sure, kids are the seeds of our future audience, blah, blah, blah . . . but that’s not who we should be focused on.  We can’t get kids to come to the theater.  It’s impossible.

But we can get parents to come to the theater.  And we can get parents to take their kids to the theater.

We know for a fact, fact, fact that exposure as a kid is what creates a future habit, (in all things, actually, not just the theater).  And we also know that most kids don’t have $140 to spend on a ticket or a driver’s license . . . or a late enough bedtime to allow them to see a weeknight show.

So our job is not to get kids to the theater.  And honestly, it’s not even always about getting parents to take their kids to the theater.

Our job is two-fold:

– Yes, get parents to take their kids to see a Broadway show.

And

– Give each parent such a wonderfully positive, life changing experience when they see a Broadway show, with their kids or without, that they want to pass on that feeling and that tradition to the other members of their family.

Yes, that starts with what is on the stage.

But it’s also about creating an inviting, inclusive and yes, sometimes affordable (thank you ‘Kids Night on Broadway’), off-stage experience as well.

So what can we do to get those parents to spend just one of their busy and tired nights a month with us?  Is it free babysitting?  Is it “play”-dates?  Is it special matinee performances?  Or more matinees during school vacations?

There’s probably no parental silver bullet, but it’s worth spending some time and money on.

Because kids are the future.  But parents hold the key.

And if we hook a parent, you get the kids for free.

 

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Comments
  • Great point!
    I wonder if a “bring-your-fussy-child” childcare room would encourage the parents’ experience to be remembered as pleasantly convenient. Why miss the rest of the show? Miss one scene and go back in, with happy kids waiting for you at the end.

    Maybe it’s a legal nightmare, but I bet some parents would even be willing to pay for it and still consider it the best service option when faced with a ruined experience on a $150 ticket.

  • This is, of course, analogous to selling children’s books. Who buys them? The parents.
    There is another way to get kids to Broadway. Group tickets. Back in high school, I organized three trips, starting with A Chorus Line, for twenty kids. (I picked even more adventurous fare for the other two plays: Marco Polo Sings a Solo (by John Guare) and Agamemnon.)
    I got twenty kids taking the 90-minute ride each way to and from Smithtown on the Long Island Railroad to see those shows at a discount rate of $3. We went to a Greek restaurant my English teacher recommended for $5 apiece. And one time we even went to a dance performance before the show.
    It wasn’t just thespians on those trips. I’d get my non-theater friends to go. And I can vouch that in one case, it did develop a lifelong Broadway habit. I just talked to an old non-theater friend who went on those trips in 1976 and 1977–and he told me I just had to see this strangely titled musical called Kinky Boots, which he thought might have been the best show he’s ever seen. Every time we talk, which is three or four times a year, he mentions the Broadway shows he’s seen.
    So if someone were to actively promote shows for high school trips a commutable distance from Broadway, it would build future audiences–whether parents take their kids to the theater or not.

  • Mary Ann says:

    I am a parent of two theatre loving teenagers. They got to be theatre loving teenagers because I have taken them to see shows since they were little. They were not always what you would think of as kid friendly shows, either. They saw and loved Enron and Superior Donuts! Just sayin’. So, I know lots of parents, because I am a parent. Why don’t other parents take THEIR kids? Yes, it’s expensive. That’s one reason. But the other is that many people who do not travel into the city for other reasons on a frequent basis, perceive the whole shlep into NY as scary, inconvenient…more effort than they want to take on. They don’t know their way around by car, they don’t know where to park, they don’t know how to use mass transit, or can’t from where they are…if you want to market more to families, then….help them get to the show. Offer package deals, with van or bus transport, pre-arranged meal, guaranteed ride home…make the bus fun, have someone on board to lead karaoke, or play show music, or….get the picture? Market to townships…say “the [name the town] [name the show]bus will be in town on [x date] so sign up now for bus ride, dinner at [x], show tickets, and a ride back home…”. I have asked this question to parents. 8 out of 10 don’t come because they perceive it as too hard to do. Find a way to make it easy for them to do.

  • Victoria Medina says:

    I love both Mahesh and Mary Anne’s suggestions. I would also take a page from baseball and add Mother / daughter days and perhaps add meeting one of the stars after or a gift, perhaps a tie in with a sponsor, and of course there are several combinations father / son, sisters, brothers, kids, you get the idea.

    Combine Mahesh’s idea with schools promoting trips to the theater as a fund raiser. Perhaps there is a way that the schools and broadway can benefit by this kind of joint venture.

    Combine Mary Anne’s suggestion with perhaps getting small businesses involved in sponsoring trips to the theater that will help them have more exposure in their community. For example, catch a meal at restaurant in Summit, NJ for a comfortable meal with the family and a couch bus is waiting outside to whisk you to the theater.

    Perhaps a local politician may wish to get involved.

    It is all about joint ventures and partnerships that benefit the community.

    Broadway is a part of the American community and how do we segment the community into smaller sectors to share an evening together.

  • George Rady says:

    I think there is a two-fold approach… and I am employing both of them in my Production project…

    One is getting the kids into the theatre – in which they have something at stake i.e. put 150 kids in “Oliver” (just a round number) and you are getting four to eight parental/relative and friends paying $80 a ducket per kids… it’s about the safest bet in Live Theatre… or, more modestly, I just saw a production of “13 the Musical” that filled a couple hundreds seats in a WPA Era Theatre that I haven’t seen more than 50 people for any of their other non-kid productions… but the “kids” have to be IN the show… then they will learn not to fidget when they are watching other live performers.

    To Respect the Process – you have to Experience the Process.

    But Part Two is that You do have a place to leave the kids – preferably with a Theatrical twist – allowing Mom and Dad to see a show that junior and miss would not be interested in… some Theatrical “Me” time…

    I understand the NYC is not the best place to try to do this – with the Draconian Laws treat people as if they were idiots (and still these idiots find any excuse to sue!) but I’ve been about the country a bit and I’ve noticed that “my” idea of Baby Sitting Services for Parents Matinee Out is not really “my” Idea… from Raleigh’s Justice Theatre Sunday Matinee Services (at a Catholic School) to Wilmington DE’s Children Theatre (while Mom and Dad can sneak off to the Du Pont) every Provincal Theatre seems to be aware that Parents can only be part of the Audience – if taking the kids off one’s hands is an option.

    It’s like hiring Vans for the Senior Communities… what? You don’t hire Vans for a Senior Community??? Or Schedule Wednesday Matinees???

    Where is your audience coming from…

    Better yet, how do you expect to – grow – your audience?

    (Any place other than NYC where the audience is coming specifically for Live Theatre…)

    g

  • Mark Nassar says:

    take a lesson from the sports world. all those kids who play in sports leagues like Little League and Pop Warner create sports fans because they get an immersive experience. How about Broadway Little Leagues. it’s a long term investment but it would reap major rewards down the line – not only for future audience but future investors

  • Ken:

    What kid isn’t completely hooked on a thing once she/he gets to take it apart (or build it). It’s the connection gained by generative experience that is lasting.

    Just took my 9 year old to a show and he loved it…but not just the show…he had questions…lots of questions; about set, actors, musicians, rehearsals, everything. How do they….(fill in the blank).

    Fortunately, I had a lot of the answers and yet for as engaged as he was, I can not help but think that a day behind the scenes (or an hour) prior to the show would have stoked his interest in the upcoming event AND kindled a connective fire that would last far longer.

    What little girl would not be hooked by the fantasy of costume and makeup and seeing older “girls” getting ready….what little boy wouldn’t be completely geeked-up moving set pieces and hooking into a fly harness. Hands on!

    Maybe its not practical given the present model and unions, but if you want a committed audience that grows up imagining theatre–Hands on!

  • Bunny says:

    Drama school in England, giving and attending shows as often as eating. We gave “edited” shows cleaned up for a G audience. Parents were happy to bring their kids to a matinee knowing they wouldn’t have to cover their ears. I still often say “Stink” in lieu of other S expletives. Lion King always has packed matinees full of children. It has murder and mayhem… And kids on stage and no foul language. Those of us who take to the stage can remember an alternate script – it’s a very good exercise. And if you slip and say stink one night the adults won’t walk out. Advertise absence of offense. Clichés are usually true. If you build it, they will come.

  • Ilene Argento says:

    As you know, I’m a theatre-aholic, and have been my entire life, but my parents couldn’t afford to take me and my sisters, let alone themselves to see shows (and tix were MUCH cheaper then!). It was the soundtracks playing all day on the house, the specials on TV (Cinderella with Leslie Ann Warren, Peter Pan with Mary Martin), and movie musicals that built my habit.

    We sometimes got to see a show as a birthday present and bring one friend with …. Maybe birthday kid promotions?

    Perhaps if more effort is put into getting those cast recordings out and on playlists, and getting a song from the show pop-infield is part of the answer!

    Certainly more matinees would help, as would Sunday early Eve shows for those who can’t get to the city during weekdays, but CAN get in for weekends.

    I agree with you, though … Get the parents to fall in love and the kids will, hopefully, catch the bug!

  • Ilene Argento says:

    Pop-ified, not pop-infield!

  • Victoria Medina says:

    School contest – a class creates a five to 10 minute play and the winner, during the summer, is allowed to perform the play on stage before a Broadway show.

    It could be for one or two weeks, but kids would be very excited.

    If every Broadway show got involved, could you imagine?

    It is like a film short before the film begins, only a play short.

    I also believe in no losers, some 2nd prize must be given to maintain the inspiration.

  • eva says:

    You could give kids a taste of theatre at the New Victory,Literally Alive,TADA,Vital, there are plenty of reasonably priced theatre for kids out there. I’ve always thought these big lobbys could be turned into day care for the kids but have it on Television screens so the kids could get a sense of the show as well but in a non-disruptive area.
    As a theatre critic I’ve been taking my son since he was three months old to the theatre and while he may have a love of show tunes he really doesn’t want to go to the theatre anymore. So it is possible to over-expose a kid to the theatre.
    The main problem is the cost. It’s just too prohibitive these days. I love everyone’s suggestions.

  • Jay says:

    I was very fortunate that my parents sent me to a weekend theatre camp as a child at one of our local community theatres. From there I learned all aspects of the theatre from acting to building props and costumes and even writing my own skits. It made me want to see theatre. I made my parents take me to national tours that came into town and begged to see all the community theatre productions I could. The first time they took me to NYC to see shows I crammed in as many as I could in one weekend. All of that made me want to explore theatre more in high school, major in it in college and move to NYC to make it my career. And now, fast forward nearly 25 years I still want to see everything I can despite not working in show business any longer. It was the seeds that were planted in my 13 year old self that still get me excited to see live theatre.

  • shirley staley says:

    my daughter is into dancing and theatre in school,so I have been bringing her to ny to see whatever show I can get a good deal on to show her that there is so much to do outside of school, you don’t have to be on broadway or be a star but if your interested in a future in it, she just loves ny shes 14. I hope I leave a good memory with her going to the shows .

  • My biggest frustration as a teacher (General Music, NYC Elementary Schools) was NOT being able to bring my kids to a show due to time constraints. Matinees start at 2pm, they cannot alter this time frame. Yes, there are many performances, children’s theater troupes including the New Victory that will do a 10 am performance…but my kids wanted a real Broadway theater experience that I could not give them, not a made for kids version. You would be surprised how Broadway savvy were my kids, I did my job well! I could have worked out the financial end (Broadway is amazingly generous in that respect) but the school’s administrators won’t take the responsibility of having “the little ones” out past the 3pm time frame as ultimately it became THEIR responsibility.
    A shame, we are so blessed to have Broadway theater in our back yard, but I couldn’t tap into such a treasure due to time constraints. CRAZY.

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