Most people develop a love for the theatre at a young age because a parent, grandparent or family friend took them to the see a live performance. Theatre can have an incredible impact on children; the chance to share the magic of live theatre with your family makes for unforgettable experiences.
Guest blogger and long-time Stratford Festival fan Stephanie MacDonald shares her experience of attending the theatre as a child with her mother and now sharing and building those same memories with her own four children.
by Stephanie MacDonald
I spent a day with my son Dakota filming a Simple Plan video at the Toronto Airport a few years ago. I remember thinking that it would probably be the last day I was going to spend alone with my teenage boy before life got in the way. I was incredibly wrong. Remembering the lessons I learned at my mother’s side, I started to bring him (then his siblings) to Stratford for momma-child days.
My mom had often taken me to plays and concerts when I was little, down in Windsor. It was our special time alone. I can’t tell you the name of my first play. Theatre was always there. She also told me every year, when The Sound of Music was on TV, that in 1960 she had seen Christopher Plummer as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival. I knew it was the place to be.
My children were raised believing that about Stratford, too. My ear was constantly turned to the happenings at Stratford when we lived in Smithers, BC. I relayed to them the plays of the season. This love of Stratford is one of the reasons why my last child (a girl after three boys) was named Cordelia. Then, in 2004, Mr. Plummer played Lear on the Festival Stage!
When we moved back to Ontario and much closer to Stratford, I started buying their TiXX deals. It was affordable for me to take a child or two with me. My first play at Stratford starred Christopher Plummer. It was a dream fulfilled for me (and later for Dakota with The Tempest).
I started taking my eldest boys to Stratford in 2008, when they were 13 and 11. It was Ben Carlson who took command of the stage that night as Hamlet. Dakota says now, at 17, that he didn’t really understand what going on, but it didn’t matter. He loved it, “like a foreign film. You don’t really understand, but you get wrapped up in it anyway.” Braeden was overwhelmed.
Going to Stratford the past four seasons has brought us closer as a family. It is a place where we can be our better and more relaxed selves, where we can each learn something about life while watching the characters on stage. Luke, when still 10, watched the three-hour-long production of Cymbeline. Did he understand it all? No, but Shakespeare is best understood live and he grasped far more than he would have by watching the play rather than reading Cymbeline. That day, Luke also spent two hours climbing trees along the Avon River, in his white shirt and dress pants. He didn’t rip or tear anything.
We pack a lunch to eat along the Avon River. We dance, talk, meditate, or climb those trees. Being enveloped by the Festival and the town, we all feel safer talking to each other. We feel protected from the outside world. When I took my mom back last season (her first trip since high school), I can tell you I hadn’t felt that close to her since childhood. It was magical.
When Cordelia and I spent our ‘Girl Day’ in Stratford last season, she fell in love with tap dancing because of 42nd Street. She danced everywhere after that, including our picnic table. She was amazed at the costumes and the actors in The Matchmaker.
Not every child will be able to sit comfortably for Shakespeare or a musical. Bring them to productions which will entice them. Read the book or play beforehand. Costumes, swords, certain actors, lighting and music can really add to their enjoyment.
What my children look forward to the most this season at the Festival is sword fighting and love. The Three Musketeers has them arguing over who will attend first. They want to see swords in action. Cordelia is actually excited for it, too. But, she is most wanting Romeo and Juliet. (She had me tweet Antoni Cimolino to request it.)
My kids and their friends in our Kids4Bard group have read Romeo and Juliet together, acted it out and choreographed a few scenes. It has been wonderful to see their imaginations and their understanding grow while reading it, even eight-year-old Cordelia. It helped them gain an understanding of the language and storylines so they won’t be lost when we see it.
It seems exquisitely full-circled that I can take my kids and my mom to see Romeo and Juliet this season at Stratford, the place where my mom found her love of theatre. Maybe the new Mercutio (Jonathan Goad) will be the next Christopher Plummer of whom my kids will say to their children, “I once saw him on the stage of the Festival Theatre.”
One day, life will get in the way – growing up will happen. My treasured moments of the upcoming season will be the days along the Avon River, in the Stratford Festival’s seats, spending time alone with my children. Time will stand imperceptibly still and add handprints of love to our hearts.
Watch as these mothers discuss why they invest in theatre for their children:
Our Family Experience program is a great and affordable way to take your children to the theatre – for every adult ticket you purchase, get up to four kids’ tickets for just $36.
EXCLUSIVE FAMILY PROMOTION: Until, February 28, be sure to take advantage of our Three Musketeers promotion and get up to four kids’ tickets for just $1 each with each purchased adult ticket. Click here for full promot details.