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Kids at La Boheme

December 4, 2008

Some arts events, such as San Francisco's recent Hip-Hop Dance Festival and San Francisco Ballet's annual Nutcracker, attract a large audience of children. On the whole, though, it's pretty rare that I come across kids at the theatre, concert hall or opera house. I don't know whether the scarcity of audience members under the age of 18 is to do with overly high ticket prices, an unwillingness on the part of children to experience live performance or an unwillingness on the part of their parents' to take or encourage them. Perhaps the reason for the lack of young audiences at arts events has more to do with the pull of other attractions such as evenings spent playing video games or on MySpace. I don't buy the argument that children should only go to see art specifically geared towards their age group. Children's theatre and concerts are great ways to inspire young audiences, but there's no reason why kids shouldn't also be exposed to so-called "grown up" cultural events too.

The other night I was happy to count at least a dozen children in the audience at San Francisco Opera for a performance of La Boheme. They all looked pretty happy to be there too. It wasn't a school group -- just random kids with their parents. Admittedly, it was the festive, Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it wasn't as if they were attending a production of an atonal work by the likes of John Adams or Olivier Messiaen. Still, I was extremely galvanized by the sight of so many young faces.

What will it take to make this less of a remarkable occurrence? Many arts organizations offer special low pricing for children. Education and outreach departments are bending over backwards to get teens excited about their companies' work. But schools and arts organizations are only part of the equation. The biggest push has to come from parents. I don't think adults need to be constantly taking their kids to see theatre productions, ballets, operas and concerts to instill a love of the performing arts in them. They just need to encourage them in that direction. I don't recall my parents taking me to see arts happenings with great frequency. They did take me a few times though, as did a Great Aunt and my Grandfather on a couple of occasions. My memories of those few productions were enough to fire me up. From then on, I found my own way into the cheap seats and eventually onto the stage itself.

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