My job as a Theatre for the Very Young (TVY) collaborator at the Alliance Theatre is to consider the entire audience. In a TVY show, you run the gambit of audience ages. Take your target audience, ages 18 months – 5 years old. They can’t exactly drive themselves to the theatre, so you know they’ll bring a caregiver. That may mean parent, grandparent, nanny, cool aunt, etc. Then take into account the guests coming with them to experience their toddlers’ first theatrical experience. All of a sudden your audience demographic ranges from 1-100 years old. Talk about a dynamic group.
Let’s explore the excitement of attending your first Theatre for the Very Young performance through a first person perspective.
So many questions
When arrive for your very first Theatre for the Very Young performance, you’re not sure what to expect. Will it be a sing-along? Are they going to pull me up on stage to participate? Will I know the story? These are the questions the adult mind considers while trying to find a place to park. The children are not so concerned. To them, everything is a new experience. Toddlers are the brave little sponges of the group, ready to react naturally to any encounter.
On your way to the pre-show room, a friendly House Manager greets you. We don’t require you to print tickets or pick up anything at the Box Office before the show. That can cause stress, and we want you to enjoy yourself. The House Manager checks you off the list and welcomes you to the pre-show room. If you’re a subscriber (even patrons as young as twelve months olds can acquire season tickets) your little one receives his/her “I’m a Subscriber” sticker to flaunt his or her patronage all over the toddler room.
The pre-show room is colorful and inviting. Images scroll on a screen of settings, characters, and less familiar imagery soon to be presented in the show. On the floor, there are pillows and carpets of different shapes and textures. A member from the Alliance Theatre Teen Ensemble is softly playing music from the play on her guitar. So many options to prepare your senses for the show. There are tables scattered about with small flower pots full of crayons in the center, that entice the young people with you. Coloring sheets that introduce the characters of the play, or concepts we may explore are provided. Whether you’re inside or outside the lines, coloring is a calming activity that hones focusing skills. It’s a great exercise for the show.
When the first 10-15 audience members arrive, a volunteer gathers the audience for a pre-show read-aloud of a related book. Again, we are practicing our transitions from active participation to active listening. Your toddler bounces, babbles, and giggles through the reading and you start to worry they are being disruptive. Funny thing, no one else seems to mind the movement of noise. The group is invited to feel the breeze through their fur, or make the sounds of a train as it pulls into station.
*Train whistle* Oh! It’s time to line up for the show. You grab your youngster’s hand and wait slightly impatiently for directions. The Stage Manager (dressed as a train conductor for this performance) hands your child a piece of string and convincingly says, “this is your ticket, don’t lose it.” The toddler takes this to heart, and clutches the yarn tightly in their tiny hand.
As your group travels the hallway on the Shhh Shhh Train, adults are reminded that the theatre is a “no shush zone“. “Oh, you don’t know my child,” you think, as you hold their hand a little tighter. “I’ll sit near the exit, just in case he gets fussy,” you comment to the House Manager outside the theatre entrance. Before you know it, your little one pulls you into the space and hands their “ticket” to an actor. You both find your seats in the audience, snuggled up on the floor together among blankets covered in brightly colored patches.
The play begins!
Our goal for creating TVY shows is to welcome everyone to the table, regardless of economic, cultural, or developmental circumstances. This includes preparing the adults in the room to let go. The TVY team works diligently to consider how each moment of the on-site experience affects overall comfort during the performances. The pre-show experience is designed to prepare the audience for what they’re about to take part in. Like a good dramaturgical program note, the pre-show room and invitation help draw connections to literature, emotional state, and the patrons’ own artistry.
This is an introduction and an invitation to be a life-long theatre patron.