Engaging in the arts can be a fantastic and enriching experience, no matter if you’re on stage participating yourself, or watching from the audience. And if you’re in the Bay Area, you have an awesome opportunity to teach your kids about arts appreciation by attending plays in San Francisco! From Broadway shows to musicals and improvisational performances, there are tons of awe-inspiring productions you can enjoy with your child.
New to the Theater?
If your children aren’t the only ones new to plays in San Francisco, you may want to do a bit of research before selecting your first show or venue.
Where to Find Kid-Friendly Plays and Productions
The Children’s Theater Association of San Francisco is an all-volunteer organization that performs traditional storybook stories. An admission fee is charged for Saturday performances in November, December and January, but free school performances are also available for K-3 classes. Past performances have included Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, and Enchanted Sleeping Beauty.
Offering both musicals by professional adult actors and productions with student actors in their conservatory program, a typical experience at the Berkeley Playhouse is unlike any other. Audience members can start by exploring interactive displays in the lobby, and then enjoy pre-show entertainment related to the upcoming performance.
The Bay Area Children’s Theatre offers Main-Stage productions in Berkeley, Oakland, Mill Valley, San Francisco and San Ramon, and takes selected shows on tour to schools in underserved communities. They also offer a Youth Education Program, which serves students in Piedmont, Alameda, Oakland, Orinda, San Ramon, Pleasanton and beyond. Productions typically showcase adaptations of children’s books, as well as special performances geared toward the pre-kindergartner audience.
The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts hosts performances in music, theater, dance, comedy, family programming, and renowned speaker events throughout the year. The expansive campus also displays artwork from local and regional artists.
- San Francisco Theater
The San Francisco Theater website is a great resource for general information on Broadway shows, opera, classical music, dance, family shows, stand-up comedy, and more. You can view seating and purchase tickets directly from their website.
Visit TheaterMania for news, reviews, and upcoming plays in San Francisco.
Choosing the Best Plays in San Francisco for Your Child
Consider age. Many theaters do not recommend bringing children under the age of 4 or 5. For this age range, stick to shows geared specifically toward their limited attention spans, such as with shorter, fairy-tale based musicals. For slightly older children, consider whether or not they can remain still through a typical two-hour show without whining, misbehaving, or otherwise ruining the show for other guests.
Recognize the way young children experience storytelling. Because young children live in a world of pretend, they may view plays in San Francisco quite differently from adults, with the line between reality and the performance becoming quite blurred. Choosing appropriate content is essential for getting your child safely involved mentally, emotionally, and (when allowed) physically in the story.
Seek out appropriate content. Keep in mind that some shows, like Little Women, may be boring for younger children. In addition, don’t assume just because a show is based on a children’s cartoon, such as The Lion King, it will be appropriate. Many of these shows can still be quite scary for young or sensitive children. Unsure about content? Try renting a DVD of the performance prior to purchasing tickets to these kinds of plays in San Francisco.
Discuss expected behavior in advance. Talk to your children about expected behavior prior to attending plays in San Francisco, including when they should remain quiet and when it’s polite to clap. Discuss the importance of manners and how they affect the enjoyment of the show for those around them.
Familiarize yourself (and your children) with the story before attending. Learn and discuss the background of the show before attending plays in San Francisco – maybe by reading the book or watching the movie in advance. This may seem counterintuitive, but it allows children to more easily follow the story as you’re watching the play.
Leave early for the show, and know when it’s time to call it a night. Allow for time beforehand to find seats, use the restroom, and educate children on the areas of the theater such as the stage and orchestra pit. Understand you may need to depart early if children are having a hard time lasting through the performance, or trade shifts with another adult taking rowdy children to the lobby area so others can continue to enjoy the show.
Initiating Involvement After the Show
Discuss what happened. Talk about the plot, characters, and costumes. Consider how the setting, time period, and culture differ from or are relevant to their life today. With older children, be sure to address more serious topics, including conflict resolution and confronting and overcoming fears.
Identify certain elements of plays in San Francisco and how they differ from other viewing experiences. Did music, dance, or other factors contribute to or distract from the experience? How was the live performance – acting, music, dance, etc. – different from traditional experiences like radio and TV?
Get children involved. Plan an art, music, acting, or dance project related to the show afterward to continue the excitement. It may inspire children to get involved in participating in theater on their own!
Ready for the Spotlight?
If your kids want to try their hand at acting on stage, many production groups and plays in San Francisco offer chances to take the spotlight!
The Young Performers Theatre is a non-profit children’s theatre located at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, offering children’s classics performed by children and puppets, as well as productions by local playwrights. There are also summer camps, workshops, and one-day mini camps for kids as young as 5.5 to work on their acting chops!
This group stages productions with students ranging from kindergarten age to teens, offering opportunities to learn about all aspects of musical theater, in addition to training with professional directors and designers.
The San Carlos Children’s Theater offers drama courses, workshops, and camps, as well as full-stage productions. Show topics are geared toward older kids, with past productions including Annie Get Your Gun, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Wizard of Oz.
This non-profit groups offers great musicals for younger children, as well as stories on stage where school-aged children are invited to share a book and see a play inspired by it. It was voted “Best Children’s Theater Workshop” in the Bay Area Parent magazine in 2007.
This theater’s Rising Stars program invites children ages 6-14 to participate in junior productions, while their Mainstage program features high school and college students. Past shows have included The Wizard of Oz, Shrek the Musical, and Cats.
- Private acting lessons through TakeLessons.com
A strong foundation is of course important before hitting all those auditions! Find an acting coach near you to help your child hone their skills.
Don’t just spend another boring night in front of the TV. Immerse your children in the excitement and culture offered in San Francisco. Escape the ordinary and give your children the creative outlet they are yearning for by inspiring them with San Francisco theater!
Photo by U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv