Theatre has been in my life for as long as I can remember. My first “starring” role came in third grade when I played a pirate in our school’s production about Christopher Columbus. (I’m not certain Columbus actually encountered pirates during his travels, but I’m sure our production was incredibly historically accurate.) During the show, I forgot to pull down my eye patch and instead kept it on my forehead. But despite my on-stage omission, I was totally hooked on theatre after that little show — I had caught the acting bug. A few years later, I saw my first touring Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera” and was completely entranced by the music, characters, and spectacle of the entire show. When I saw the production again, 18 years later at the Boston Opera House, I was just as mesmerised as I was the first time. The excitement I felt as a child returned to me, and my sense of wonder still prevailed.
Having worked in both professional and children’s theatre, I have seen firsthand how it can be a hugely beneficial activity for children. It can spark their imagination and creativity and help them develop a love for art and music. Plus, with any luck, it’s a great activity to get kids to sit still for a couple hours! I fully intend to bring my children to the theatre as soon as I can, and even though my child right now is too young to attend, that has not stopped me from vetting some great places to take him when he’s older. Here are a few theatre companies in the Boston area to check out for great children’s productions all year long:
Seeing “The Nutcracker” at the Boston Opera House is a Christmas tradition that should not be missed. I’ve seen smaller productions of this classic, but watching the ballet in the heart of Boston during the Christmas season is truly magical. Nothing quite beats viewing “The Nutcracker” and then emerging onto Boston Common to see the park fully decorated, with the city’s Christmas tree right in the heart of the Common. The dancers are beyond talented, and it’s incredible to see just what the human body can do. The costumes are also beautiful and fit well with the grandiose scenery. When I attended “The Nutcracker” I saw many, many little girls, as young as age 4, wearing their fancy dresses and attending the ballet with their parents and grandparents. As the soon-to-be mother of two boys, I fully intend to slap a bow tie on sons’ collars and take them to the Boston Opera House to see a Boston Ballet production. Ballet, after all, is not just for girls. Of course, “The Nutcracker” isn’t the only production from the Boston Ballet; the company presents multiple ballets throughout the year — next year, “Swan Lake” is on the schedule. (Be sure to check out Morgan’s reviews of a few previous productions, like “Shades of Sound” and “Edge of Vision.”) Tickets to Boston Ballet performances are more expensive than some, so you may want to save this event for a special occasion. You can also look for deals on Groupon or Living Social to help alleviate the ticket price.
Wheelock Family Theatre offers Broadway-quality productions for a fraction of the price. I had the pleasure of seeing their recent production of Shrek: The Musical,” and the actress who played Princess Fiona looked and sounded almost exactly like Sutton Foster, who originated the role on Broadway. (Trust me — that’s incredibly high praise.) The theatre is situated on the campus of Wheelock College on the Riverway, so the theatre’s casts are comprised of both exceptionally talented college and high school students from all over the Boston area, as well as professional actors. Nestled about 10 minutes from Fenway Park and the Museum of Fine Arts, you could easily make a fun day in the Fenway area as you attend a production at Wheelock.
Boston Children’s Theatre offers affordable theatre for children, performed by children. Over the last year, this theatre performed shows such as “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Stuart Little: The Musical,” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” While the regular season has wrapped up, the company’s summer program is available for children as young as age 4, and classes are spread throughout the Boston area from Cambridge to Beverly. Children participating in the summer programs will even have the chance to take classes with some Broadway actors! Children are sure to be engaged as either audience members or performers.
For those of you near Newton or Watertown, Watertown Children’s Theatre offers productions performed by and geared toward a variety of ages. Much like Boston Children’s Theatre, Watertown Children’s Theatre productions star children. If your child is interested in getting involved in theatre, this company offers many opportunities, including weekend workshops, after-school programs, and summer classes. If you simply want to attend their productions, they have seven to choose from throughout the year, making it a great year-round activity.
Local community theatre
I absolutely wish I could spotlight every single community theatre in every single neighborhood in the Boston area —there are so many opportunities for children to both see theatre and get involved in it close to home. For instance, Easton Children’s Theatre, just south of Boston, offers children a very affordable opportunity to be in three different productions every year — a fall show, a spring show, and a summer camp. In particular, during the summer camp, kids play theatre games, learn dances, and rehearse for a final camp production. This experience helps children develop confidence, and this confidence can be reflected in their schoolwork and social lives throughout the year. Be sure to take a look at the theatres in your neighborhood. There may be some great organizations just around the corner from you!
You may have children who were a lot like me and many other kids I have worked with over the years — children who have a vivid imagination, a need to express their creativity, and a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Theatre helped me find my niche as I was growing up, and I’ve carried the lessons I learned both as a performer and audience member with me throughout my life. So check out the theatres both in the heart of Boston and in your neighborhoods as often as you can!
What other children’s theatre companies would you recommend? Seen any good shows lately?