Attending the performing arts

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

We all know how important it is to expose our kids to the arts, but how many of us actually make the effort to get them - and ourselves - to the theater, the ballet, the symphony or the opera? Are we slacking because we're not exactly sure how to do it?

Any one of these performances is the product of hundreds, even thousands, of years of tradition. Each one has rules and rituals that aren't obvious to a newcomer. To demystify these art forms, Columbus Parent asked people from some of the top performing-arts organizations in town to help us create this month's Go-To Guide.

-Jane Hawes


No one wants people to stay away from the arts because they aren't dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns. Comfort is key, but so is showing respect for the performers.

"Nice school clothes" is a good rule of thumb from Columbus Symphony Orchestra's Jeani Stahler. "Casual but neat clothing" is perfectly acceptable, said BalletMet's Jennifer Sciantarelli.

But part of the fun can be dressing up. The Wexner Center's Shelly Casto said, "Children often enjoy wearing special clothes for a special outing. For last year's 'Farfalle (Butterflies)' performances, there were quite a few girls who came outfitted with fairy wings!"

Added Opera Columbus's Sarah Rhorer, "For children, a night or afternoon at the operaseems like avery special,grown-upoccasion, and it's fun to treat it assuch by dressing up!"


Before you go, do some research about what you'll see. Our experts suggested these resources:

  • Websites: Each organization's website has lots of info about the show and performers you'll be seeing
  • Library: Read children's books about famous composers or choreographers
  • YouTube: Watch clips of famous ballets or operas
  • Wikipedia: Read up on the history of famous plays, operas, ballets and music
  • CDs and iTunes: Listen to the music that will be performed

Most theaters open their front doors one hour before a show starts (or "before curtain" in theater lingo) and the seating area's doors 30 minutes beforehand. Arrive early enough (at least 20 minutes before curtain) to give yourselves time to visit the bathroom before the show starts.

Other pre-show activities can include: a walk around the theater; read the program together; attend a pre-performance talk if there is one; peer into the orchestra pit and watch the musicians warm up.

If you arrive late, you might not be able to enter the theater after the performance has begun. It depends on what it is being performed. The ushers will tell you if and when you can be seated later.


Opera Columbus's Rhorer said children often deem operatic singing as "shouting" and "weird" so they immediately tune out, but she said once they understand why the singing style is the way it is, they often accept it.

Here's what she tells them: "At the time opera was invented, there was no such thing as a microphone!Singers had to figure out ways to use their bodies to amplify sound so that people in all areas of the theater could hear them.Singers on the radio today produce sound differently because they have the aid of a microphone."


Many of the shows at the Wexner Center are performed by actors from other countries. The Wex's Casto suggested, "You can prepare your children for foreign accents by having them listen to someone from Australia, for instance, by watching a YouTube video, if the show is from that country.However, performers here are careful to soften accents and clarify language because they want to be clearly understood by American children."


"Applause can be tricky to figure out for the newcomer," said Opera Columbus's Rhorer. Here's a cheat sheet for when it's OK to clap:

  • When the conductor comes on stage or into the orchestra pit
  • At the end of a special solo
  • At the end of an act (unless something really sad has happened and then it might not feel right)
  • Definitely at the end of the performance, even if something sad has happened.

When in doubt, watch what everyone else is doing. Said Rhorer, "A good rule of thumb is to take cues from those around you.If most seem to be clapping, go ahead and join in!"

Another good rule of thumb is to watch the conductor, said Stahler: "Applaud when the conductor lowers his arms unless it is only the end of one of several movements of a symphony, at which point applause only occurs at the very end of the entire piece."


Classical ballets have some very set traditions. One of these is a pas de deux (pronounced "paah deh DOOH"), which is a dance between a man and a woman. First they'll dance together, then each one will perform a solo, and then they'll reunite for another dance together. The Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Cavalier section of "The Nutcracker" is a famous pas de deux, and it's OK to clap after each duet and solo. BalletMet's Sciantarelli said, "Dancers love to know that the audience is enjoying themselves."


Sometimes the best laid plans and pre-curtain visits to the restroom aren't enough. What to do when nature calls?

CSO's Stahler suggested, "If this is your child's first visit to an orchestra concert, request a seat near the aisle - just in case.Very quietly and quickly exit the row and then wait until the end of the piece to return to your seat."


Some final helpful hints from our experts:

  • CSO's Stahler said, "Try not to dwell on all of the 'don'ts' before the concert. Instead, after explaining positive, realistic expectations, talk about all of the wonderful things that will be seen and heard."
  • Opera Columbus's Rhorer said, "It may seem like an overwhelming, grown-up experience for a child.If they see you being relaxed and enjoying the experience, they are more likely to feel the same."
  • Wexner's Casto said, "Be sure your child is fed and well rested. If your child is nervous about darkness, be sure to hold their hand or pat their back if the lights are dimmed during a show."
  • BalletMet's Sciantarelli said, "Reflect on the performance afterwards. Responses to a performance vary from individual to individual and should be respected and encouraged."

Another tip from Opera Columbus's Rhorer was "try to wait until there is a scene change or for music that is loud enough to mask the scuffle of getting out of your seats."