The Trouble With Barney

Kiddie shows may seem sweet, but they can leave some families awfully unsatisfied.


Photo by Richard Termine

SEUSSICAL AT THE COLONIAL. The Wiggles at the Orpheum. Sure, those kiddie shows may seem sweet, but they can leave some families awfully unsatisfied. “As a parent going to children’s theater, you feel like you’re babysitting,” says Rob Orchard, head of ArtsEmerson. “It ends up being an isolating experience for everyone.”

And a steady diet of such high-fructose corniness is also bad for business. A while back, Orchard read a study that turned up unsettling results: If kids aren’t exposed to the art world in a significant way by age 12, they’re almost guaranteed to ignore it as grownups. That’s enough to keep folks like Orchard up at night, and it’s why he’s made family programming a keystone of ArtsEmerson’s schedule.

Take Petrushka, which opens at the Paramount on 11/11. Children will enjoy the story of a ballerina and the clown who loves her, while parents can get into the sweeping Stravinsky score. Even better, Petrushka is a ballet with a twist — master puppeteer Basil Twist, that is. He’s staged the story with surreal marionettes that enthrall all ages, which is exactly the point. “I find that kids respond more viscerally [to a show] when they’re with their parents and the parents are into it,” Orchard says.

ArtsEmerson is not alone in its family focus. On the last Saturday of each month, the ICA’s “play dates” offer families free admission and special art activities. And on 11/13, the BSO hosts a youth performance of Peter and the Wolf that’s also free for kids. Such shows aren’t meant to simply provide nice outings — they’re also designed to hook a generation of future patrons. If the arts scene is going to thrive for years to come, we’ll need to see more pigtails mixed with the gray hair at Symphony Hall.