Art and About
Engaging with the creative force in everyday life

December 30th, 2007

Too Much of a Good Thing During the Holidays?

Posted by christina in Web Columns

My husband and I love the performing arts — both as participants and as audience members. Our children are now 4 1/2 and 7, and in the last year, we have aggressively started taking them to live performances of theater, dance, music and various other performance arts. They are ready for it, and we have been waiting not-so-patiently for them to be old enough to share in our most favorite activity. Before we had children, if we didn’t have tickets to something clipped to the calendar, then we started to get the shakes. I am pleased to look in my datebook organizer for 2008 and feel the weight of 4 tickets clipped to several of the pages, and the year hasn’t even begun yet.

We live in the San Francisco Bay Area and there is a disturbing trend when it comes to family fare offered during the holidays by our local arts organizations. I don’t quite know when it began because until my children were old enough to be good audience members, I wasn’t keeping tabs on family theater, music and dance events. But now that I am watching the ads, I see that the market for children-friendly shows is stuffed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but a little thin the other 10 months. There are a few theater troupes in our area that offer year-round seasons for families, and I applaud their constant commitment to nurturing the next generation. The organizations that disturb me more include the San Francisco Symphony and ODC Dance, prominent companies offering alternatives to the ubiquitous “Nutcracker,” that cater to families but don’t necessarily have anything to do with the holidays. Therefore, their offerings could be done any other time of year. However, they are choosing to squeeze the non-holiday family attractions into the last six weeks of the year and leave a bit of a drought the other 46. There are several theater companies guilty of the same scheduling glut, most offering a version of “A Christmas Carol” or familial theatrical alternatives.

I’ll start with ODC since this holiday season I attended their “Nutcracker” alternative, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” There is one Christmas morning scene, but other than that, the dance could be produced at any other time of the year. The audience was packed with appreciative young children, parents, and grandparents. Would as many of us turn up during another season of the year? Possibly, and I suspect there would be some drop off in attendance for those who associate the holidays with high-class arts and then feel they have filled their personal quota until next year. But we can’t be the only family who would enjoy seeing “The Velveteen Rabbit” at any other time of year, especially when the holiday calendar is quite so full.

The San Francisco Symphony’s offerings of “Peter and the Wolf” and a screening of “The Wizard of Oz” with live orchestral accompaniment bothers me even more. Why crunch these offerings into December? I believe “Peter and the Wolf” used to be done in the spring around Mother’s Day. I know that because I would sigh when my children were too young to go and say “someday, we’ll go to Davies Hall and hear ‘Peter and the Wolf.’” This year, “Peter” was done the weekend before Christmas when our family had 800 other events going on. The live-orchestra “Wizard” sounds like great fun but not in December. How about offering it around Easter time, when the networks used to air the movie. Technicolor and Easter seem well-suited for each other.

In defense of these organizations and many others, I am aware that a huge percentage of their yearly revenue comes in during the holidays. I am aware that they hope someone who is not a season subscriber will come with their family, fall in love with the organization and be a patron during another part of the year. I do not know how often this phenomenon occurs. But what if the non-subscriber is like my young family, wanting to go to an event together at any given time, but find there aren’t many options in February or May or September?

I also understand that one doesn’t necessarily need to bring children only to family-marketed arts offerings. We bring our kids to plenty of “regular” shows during the year. There is something special, though, about something like “Peter and the Wolf,” or the story of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which are part of our collective arts culture and need to be ceremonially passed onto the next generation. How about having that ceremony in the spring or fall or summer?

Could the audience and the arts community meet each other halfway? Could families make a solemn vow to attend other performing arts offerings throughout the year, and could these organizations stage some family-oriented entertainment outside of December? If the arts are going to survive, then the children of today need to get into the habit of attending live performance all year long. I understand that the holidays are perfect for special traditions, like going to a fine ballet or concert. Speaking from the experience of taking our children to arts events all year, it actually is a special feeling no matter the time of year. It seems we all could be starting down a dangerous path of teaching our children that arts patronage runs hot and cold in opposition to the weather.

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