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How to Enjoy the Arts With Children


Lori and Bill Waldman of Calabasas may not consider themselves patrons of the arts, but in the last six years they've taken their children with them to a score of Broadway-type musicals, dance concerts, art museums and local theater productions.

Their excursions haven't always been easy. Like the time 5-year-old Jenny, decked out in a red velvet dress and party shoes, got her legs caught in the folding theater seat at a performance of "Annie." Tugging and pulling at the screaming child didn't free her, and the parents thought for awhile the manager would have to call the Fire Department to remove the seat. (Eventually, an usher extracted her.)

On other occasions, the children asked questions incessantly, needed to use the bathroom--one after the other--and ultimately fell asleep.

Undaunted by these experiences, the Waldmans have spent countless weekends at fine arts performances with their children. They remember the good parts: the times their girls sang the show tunes in the car all the way home and when one recognized Vivaldi after a junior symphony program.

Symphony and ballet may never take the place of zoos and theme parks in the hearts of children, but each weekend increasing numbers are donning their best to join their parents at the Music Center, the Getty Museum and the Orange County Performing Arts Center, to name a few. At such temples of the arts, and especially at certain performances, audiences are taking on a decided family cast. Los Angeles residents Lin Oliver and husband Al Baker take their two boys with them everywhere, from the Hollywood Bowl for a performance of Beethoven to a Bruce Springsteen concert, where tickets were $35 apiece.

"We take our boys because we want to be together," Oliver said, "and what we do acts as sort of a bonding device for the whole family."

Not everyone is willing to spend $35 a seat to bond with their children. Indeed, young connoisseurs are still a rarity at evening symphonies and serious theater. But they do attend ballet, modern and ethnic dance, Broadway-type musicals, pop music concerts, and opera. And strollers and Snugglies are commonplace at art museums.

Robert Haag, dean of El Camino College's Community and Cultural Services, goes to at least one of their Nutcracker productions each year just to watch the audience. "I'm always impressed as I watch very little kids completely mesmerized . . . not moving a muscle."

Six-year-old Jonathan Strauss has already discovered the excitement of ballet. His parents, Susan and Peter Strauss of Beverly Hills, have taken him to the Joffrey for the last three seasons and Jonathan already has his favorites--Parade, Le Petit Prince and Les Patineurs.

Serena Tripi, director of operations for the Joffrey Ballet gets a lot of calls from mothers asking which programs are good for children.

"I tell them story ballets are wonderful. This season, 'La Fille Mal Gardee'--a light, humorous ballet complete with a farmyard scene--is especially good. It's a no-lose ballet for kids."

Almost any kind of dance is a winner, the experts say. Dance troupes such as Alvin Ailey, Polobolus, Martha Graham and Dance Theater of Harlem captivate young and old alike. And the ethnic diversity presented through dance is especially appealing in multicultural Los Angeles.

"It's easy to bring children to dance performances," said Michael Alexander, a Los Angeles artists' manager and father of two. "One of the difficult things about taking kids to a performance is that they can't talk. In dance, there are a few more breaks in the silence when people burst into applause. If the kids just have to say something, they can do it then."

Alexander believes that children need something specific to watch for. He spends a little time before the performance talking with his children, asking them questions they can think about--who's the mother, who's the young girl, does the music go with the dance, what are the hardest things for the dancers to do.

But family fare need not be limited to gala musicals and dance. When it's done well, children respond to drama.

It was a special matinee performance at the Mark Taper Forum. The Improvisational Theater Project, a group dedicated to professional theater for children, was presenting "One Thousand Cranes"--a play about a young Japanese girl who develops leukemia after the Hiroshima blast, and a California boy who worries about nuclear war and wonders what one person can do.

The small theater held families of all configurations and children of all ages--toddlers to teens.

One mother folded paper cranes to entertain her fidgeting children until curtain. Four boys ran up and down the aisle bantering loudly. Two girls with braces debated about where to go for lunch afterward.

The lights went out to signal the beginning. There were squeals, then, "Shh . . . shh . . . shh." Said one 9-year-old: "It's starting." Said another: "It's really dark. I'm scared."

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