The first show I attended at Symphony Space in New York City was in 2005 at a Dan Zanes and Friends concert. My husband and I took our daughter who was 18 months old at the time. Being lovers of concerts and theater, we hoped to instill the love of the arts in our toddler, but worried that she was too young. We were so wrong. She sat mesmerized and quickly began clapping and dancing to the music. Her love of live performances began that day and has continued strong for 11 years.
I’ll let the video below of her at a Dan Zanes concert in Brooklyn two years after her first show speak for itself:
She, and now her younger sister, have probably been to more concerts and theater performances than I have in my 41 years. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Since it all began at Symphony Space I reached out to Darren Critz, Director of Performing Arts Programs at Symphony Space, who curates the weekly Just Kidding performance series to get some tips on taking kids to live performances and why it’s so important.
Playground: Who are the Just Kidding series shows targeted to?
Darren: Just Kidding shows are for parents and their kids ages 3-7 (though many folks start bringing their children as babies like Georgette did!). We have a different performance of dance, theatre, music or puppetry just about every weekend between October and the end of March, so it’s a great program for people who want to attend regular cultural events with their kids, or for out-of-towners that want an exciting and affordable alternative to Broadway.
Playground: How can parents prepare their kids for their first live performance?
Darren: Hype it up! Watch a video of the artist in advance of the show date; talk about what you’ll be seeing at the event; ask them what they’re most excited about it; share your own feelings on what you’ll be seeing and what you’re looking forward to. Try to remember your own first live show (most people do – vividly) and talk about why it was so special. It’s a lot of fun to ask the same questions after the show and see how much the pre and post show experience match.
Playground: Why should parents take their young children to arts performances?
Darren: Early exposure to the performing arts helps build a lifelong love of the arts, it’s a great way to bond with your kids, and most importantly — it’s fun.
The 2015-2016 Just Kidding lineup offers Grammy Award-winning and nominated performers, dazzling dance shows, and fun new productions. Tickets to the Just Kidding series start at $13 for members and $15 for the general public— offering affordable family fun.
Here are a few of my picks:
Saturday, October 24 at 2 pm: National Dance Institute Celebration Team
More than 100 kids will dance their hearts out, in one of the highest energy performances of the NYC dance scene. In addition to works from NDI’s award-winning repertoire, the performance includes a segment from “This Land is Our Land:The Power of American Song,” a celebration of bluegrass, folk, blues, spirituals and other music that define our nation and its people. Founded by ballet star Jacques d’Amboise, National Dance Institute (NDI), has transformed the lives of more than 2 million children through award-winning arts and learning programs, and through their spectacular and colorful public performances for more than 35 years.
Saturday, November 14 at 11 am : Justin Roberts…..Unplugged
Two-time GRAMMY nominee Justin Roberts is truly one of the “all-stars” of the indie family music scene. With numerous national awards and recognition and a devoted fan base, Justin and The Not Ready for Naptime Players dish out unexpectedly intelligent and whimsically rocking music for kids and their parents. With a style compared to Elvis Costello and Green Day, they’re an audience favorite year after year!
Saturday, February 13 at 11 am: Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower
Always one of the most anticipated shows of the season, Elizabeth Mitchell and her family band create gentle, heartfelt music that transfixes audiences of all ages with homespun renditions of great songs by Woody Guthrie, Bob Marley, The Velvet Underground, Vashti Bunyan, Gillian Welch and more. The quiet sweetness and intimacy of her concerts cement her as an icon whose music will be remembered for years to come.
Saturday, February 20 at 11 am and 2 pm: Beats, Rhymes and Breaking
From head spins to windmills, and from 6-step to the trusty pop and lock, prepare the kids for a unique program of jaw-dropping breakdance action with the Manzana City Crew — returning to Just Kidding after two previous sold-out extravaganzas!
Where to Eat
Looking for lunch after the show? Here are two great spots:
- Two Boots Pizza is right across from Symphony Space 95th Street. Named for the geographical shapes of Italy and Louisiana, it blends Italian and Cajun cuisines. Trust me, it’s good.
- Big Daddy’s is a great place for burgers and milkshakes, or traditional diner food. The kids menu offers great choices plus fun drinks—Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers.
Great Places Nearby
If the kids are looking for even more fun after a show, here are two great nearby places to visit:
- American Museum of Natural History: One of the largest museums in the world. AMNH is most famous for the great Blue Whale, Hayden Planetarium ( now part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space), and being the real place of Night at the Museum
- Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) : The ultimate interactive museum for young children.
Where to Stay if You’re Visiting Out of Town
Hotel Newton, directly across the street from Symphony Space, is an old-style, comfortable, almost European, mid-priced hotel with very friendly staff. Bonus: There’s a fun NYC style diner right downstairs!