As a self-proclaimed couch potato, whose couch potato-ness only escalated during the pandemic, I must say that the idea of trying to get two children under the age of 5 out the door to any activity at a specified time ignites my anxiety. Transitions are not my 5-year-old’s strong suit, and when there’s a perfectly good television they could watch, why would I put my child through that stress if we’re not required to leave the house? There’s plenty of new, educational and delightful content out there every day (Sesame Street has 50 years’ worth), and that television isn’t going to watch itself!
But I took a chance this weekend, relying heavily on the reward system to get my child to go through her morning activities, to see Adventure Theatre MTC’s “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” I brought my 20-month-old daughter, too.
One of the things that I immediately noticed after the live performance was my children’s energy levels. After a TV show, they’re practically zombies. After just 70 minutes of a live show, they’re inspired: running, singing and actually playing together.
I also felt that watching the live performance was much more of a family activity. I try to be present when my children watch screens, but that’s not always possible as there is a neverending list of chores that need to be done at home for self-proclaimed superhero, Mommy the Multitasker. However, in a theater, there is nothing to distract me. No phones, no chores, just the pure enjoyment of being present with my kids.
In this moment, I was reminded that live performances give us security in the knowledge that we are not alone in this world, and we as a community have to help each other. We’ll never see this show done the same way ever again. The script may always be the same; the performances and audience reactions are 100% unique.
Another huge difference I noticed was my children’s willingness to break with the material and engage in reading. In a live show, there is a definite ending, whereas with streaming, there is no ending in sight. So, when they got home, they wanted to extend their experience by picking up their Charlie Brown book to read together.
Another good reminder: We as a species learn and grow from stories. And when the stories play out in the same space as we are, they stick in our heads longer. There is no barrier of safety between you and that actor in front of you. You are face-to-face with their humanity.
(Also, who are these children wanting to read books, and what have they done with my zombies?) They are healthier and better people than when we went inside the theater.
I happened to notice during the show that the house wasn’t sold out, and I know many families, like mine, are out of the habit of going to live theater. But the benefits far outweigh the downsides. Yes, live performances aren’t free (and that $13 Disney+ subscription is already paid for). But we do need to pay our artists for their work and their time. And I can’t help but feel that my children found a place they felt they belonged.
In fact, so much so, I might try enrolling them in a class. Does that mean that they will grow up to be great orators or actors? I’m not sure I would even want that for them. I do want them to know the amount of work that is required to create art, and I do want them to grow up with some strong 21st Century Skills, almost all of which are fostered by participating in theater. After all, Ketanji Brown Jackson was a scene partner with Matt Damon at Harvard. That doesn’t mean she became a movie star; it means that she valued the skills and understanding theater participation gave her.
I encourage you to take a chance and see a show, even if you aren’t “theater people.” There are several family-friendly live performances out there in the Washington, DC area, so I encourage you to go see something this weekend.