In which a mother and daughter enjoy their first “butt-in-a-seat” event together.
I saw Richmond Ballet’s Nutcracker for the first time when I had a seven-week-old daughter at home. All the little girls in their pretty Christmas dresses made me look forward to taking her to see the show in three or four years’ time. Then I nodded off towards the end (seven-week-old child-related). It was all very magical.
It’s been more than three years since then, and I’d been testing the waters for my daughter’s debut into the world of audience member. She typically has an hour-long attention span when we watch movies at home, and at baseball games last summer she was only interested in anything if it involved food or Nutzy (or whatever the Nutzy equivalent was at the Pittsburgh Pirates game we saw last summer–I think it was more food).
This past Saturday we attended the Richmond Symphony’s performance of George Gershwin’s, An American in Paris part of its LolliPops concert series geared towards children. I picked it as her first official butt-in-a-seat event (that’s the fancy symphony term for it) because LolliPops shows are an hour long and cost $10, and because I wanted to see it. It’s An American in Paris! It’s delightful.
(Richmonder confession time: Before Saturday, I had never been to a Richmond Symphony concert. I have heard the group at other performances, but not on its own. And now I can say I have, and look down on everyone who hasn’t.)
My daughter’s first theater event wasn’t like I pictured it. For instance, she wasn’t wearing a lovely little dress like all the other girls. She not only would not have worn one if she had it, but she was still wearing her soccer uniform from that morning’s class over pink pants and sneakers. She didn’t want to take off her puffy coat or Thomas the Train hat or leave her blanket in the car. I’m just happy she didn’t take her shoes and socks off as soon as we got inside the building.
Before the concert started we visited a festival adjacent to the theater featuring an “instrument petting zoo.” Members of the Youth Orchestra Program and some adults showed the kids how to play (or at least hold) instruments. She tried a big drum, a trombone, a violin, and some small percussions. Along with the petting zoo, there were tables from other sponsors with freebies and information, and a Children’s Museum of Richmond setup. This was awesome and great engagement for the children, but once my daughter gave me her first of several “I have to use the bathroom” warnings, the energetic packed crowd of music enthusiasts immediately turned into a mass of dead-eyed zombies specifically intent on blocking the route to the restrooms.
We picked a seat at the end of the row towards the back for bathroom access, but even that spot gave us a good view. My daughter is well-behaved in general, so I didn’t expect her to flip out in the middle of the show. However, I do carry a pack of fruit snacks with me most of the time. There is no occasion, not even a funeral, that keeps me from shoving a pouch of fruit snacks in her mouth if she’s getting restless. Since we were sitting for a while, she asked to go home before the music started. I gave her the fruit snacks and my phone to play with (we will work on sitting quietly and patiently at a later date). The show, blessedly, started on time.
Conductor Erin Freeman (pictured above) did a great job telling a story in between pieces to set the scene during the first half of the show. We missed a few chunks of the beginning of the performance due to a couple more bathroom breaks (all false alarms–CenterStage’s bathrooms are really nice, and I think she just wanted to go because she liked the sinks). But when An American in Paris started and the ballet dancers from the School of Richmond Ballet came out, she finally seemed to be paying attention. She sat in my lap and quietly watched the show the whole time, but once the dancers caught her attention for real, I finally relaxed.
There was a lot of crying and screaming in the audience,1 but the added visual element of dance either made everyone calm down or helped me block them out. A string of little girls sitting behind me all took turns to gasp and say, “a ballerina!”, which was adorable. Overall, it was a fun and impressive performance, and as soon as it was over, we clapped and left to beat the crowd.
Staff members handed out lollipops as everyone exited, which my daughter was stoked about; it probably bumped up her review of the show. I can understand why management would not want hundreds of kids eating sticky candy in the beautiful theater, but I bet there would be a less-fussy audience if those were handed out on the way in.
I hummed the tunes we heard for the rest of the day. When we wound down that evening for bedtime and recapped the day’s events, which also included her early soccer class and a movie night,2 I asked her to tell me her favorite things that happened.
I expected something from soccer, the ballet dancers, the movie, or even the lollipop. Instead she broke down some plot points about an episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates that she watched post-nap. So much for culture.
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The last LolliPops of the season–The Remarkable Farkle McBride–is on March 15th in the Carpenter Theatre at CenterStage (600 E. Grace Street). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the box office.
Photo courtesy of: Richomnd Symphony