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There are plenty of reasons why families are skipping out on arts events. The barriers are real (but there are options), and on the list of must-do things to keep children alive/happy/educated, going to a play is not at the top. 

But when the lights go down, the audience members settle in their seats and that first note hits the air, there is nothing like it. Whether the stage features a play, a musical, dance, a concert or an educational event, time spent in a theater is not wasted – and that might be especially true for the youngest members of the audience.

“Exposing children to ballet, the theater, the symphony – you are exposing them to the foundation of all the arts they see today,” Teresa Hough, Executive Director of Ballet Spartanburg, said. “The encouragement for us is to always give children the door. Let them walk through that door.”

Tara McNamara, Director of Communications for the Peace Center, has some ideas for where parents can start if this experience is a new one for their family.

Start with getting to know what you will see. Look online for reviews and even video clips. 

“Most of the Broadway shows do offer an age recommendation,” McNamara said. “For your family, you need to make those decisions.”

Age recommendations will often include details about the show, including whether there is adult content or language. 

“Now more than ever, it’s easy to access that information,” McNamara said. 

For young children, performances by local youth-based organizations will likely be a good start, along with dance performances and music groups. The Peace Center recommends that attendees be ages 5 and older. 

At home, McNamara recommends talking about specifics of performing, like how costumes can help portray a character and that actors are doing a job. If the show includes music, listen ahead of time. Talk through the plot of a play. Attend pre-show talks or master classes, if those are available.

“We try to offer ways to expand that experience,” McNamara said.

·      Contact the box office or the presenting organization to ask about special pricing for kids and families. Community organizations may have free or discounted tickets available. Look for “kids attend free” or specially priced tickets for local shows. Check social media and sign up for emails from local theaters to get the first word about special offers. Hough said Ballet Spartanburg tries to remove the barrier of cost by working to accommodate families who want to attend shows and offering scholarships for dance classes.

·      Avoid buying tickets from third-party sites. Stick to official websites or stop by the box office for the best prices and tickets that are sure to be valid.

·      Don’t stress about what to wear. “Some people consider that a barrier,” McNamara said. “We don’t have a particular dress code. We want everyone to be comfortable.”

·      Take a look at seating charts online to get a feel for the theater and what seating suits your family best. 

·      Plan ahead to request accessible seating, if required.

·      Allow plenty of time for parking and arriving at your seats. Some shows, especially Broadway performances, will have a seating hold, meaning that late arrivers will miss the first part of the show.

·      Find the restrooms when you arrive. 

·      Ask for a booster seat, if needed. 

·      Talk with children in advance about good theater etiquette, including the need to sit quietly and hold questions for intermission or after the show. Turn off cell phones.  

·      Look for free performances throughout the Upstate, including outdoor concerts and school-year performances at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. 

Ballet Spartanburg presents “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 13 – 15 at Twichell Auditorium. Discounted tickets are available for children. For details, visit https://www.balletspartanburg.org. “A Midsummer's Night Dream” will be presented in April.

Tickets for Peace Center performances start at around $15 for single night events and around $35 for Broadway shows. Discounts are often announced via email and social media. Upcoming recommended shows for families include National Geographic Live: Ocean Soul with Brian Skerry on Jan. 13, Disney’s “Aladdin” Feb. 12 – 23 and Hong Kong Ballet’s Alice (in Wonderland) on April 21. Visit https://www.peacecenter.org.

In addition to Ballet Spartanburg and the Peace Center, some organizations offer shows designed to appeal to kids. This is not an inclusive list, but it can jumpstart your search for the best in family-friendly performances.

·      South Carolina Children’s Theatre

·      Spartanburg Youth Theatre

·      Greer Children’s Theatre

·      Mauldin Youth Theatre

·      Carolina Youth Symphony

·      Greenville County Youth Orchestra

·      Spartanburg Youth Orchestra

·      Converse College

And many of the grown-up performances by these organizations (and many others locally) are perfect for families:

·      Greenville Theatre

·      Spartanburg Little Theatre

·      Spartanburg Philharmonic

·      Greenville Symphony Orchestra

·      Foothills Playhouse

·      Mill Town Players

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