From dance classes and art lessons to museum exhibits and stage performances, the opportunities for kids to enjoy the arts in Oklahoma City abound. That’s great news for parents as endless research has come out in recent years in favor of exposing kids to the arts. It’s also great for local arts experts who know about these benefits and dedicate their lives to enriching the lives of metro youth by making the arts accessible to them.
Starting this month, MetroFamily Magazine is launching a four-part series about practical ways to expose children to the arts. We will highlight the organizations presenting fun and educational arts programs to kids and guide readers to local agencies making arts programs accessible to families. We begin the series by featuring several holiday productions to get kids excited about theater.
The American Alliance for Theatre & Education reports just a few of the benefits of exposing kids to live stage performances that include a boost in reading comprehension, higher test scores through school and even better self-esteem. These benefits hardly skim the surface of what the arts can do for youth, said Sharon Astrin, the community arts program director for the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. However, with dwindling resources for public arts programs and budget cuts in public schools, exposing kids to the arts requires work from a variety of sources.
“I just don’t think any of us can do it alone,” Astrin said. “Schools can’t do it alone, we can’t do it alone, parents can’t do it alone. We can do a lot together. I think it’s a three-legged stool of the parents, schools and community agencies.”
The Arts Council partners with a variety of local businesses and schools to make that happen (more on that later in the series) and encourages parents to take advantage of the programs provided by local arts agencies. Julia Kirt is the executive director for Oklahomans for the Arts, an organization that advocates for the arts throughout the state.
“All humans are inherently creative,” she said. “The arts are a great way to give them an outlet to come alive. It might be interactive, it might be performance art, it might be experiencing things physically.”
Kirt said children in school today may not experience as many connections to the arts as their parents did in school due to educational shifts and budget cuts to public schools.
“Since previous generations, we’ve lost a lot of theater programs and art teachers,” she said, “so it’s all the more important to get kids to experience public arts. I think it starts at the beginning.”
As to the age children should be introduced to the arts, that depends on the child and the performance. While infants and toddlers aren’t welcome at all stage performances, Lyn Adams, executive director of Oklahoma Children’s Theatre, said she encourages parents to take infants to family-friendly shows.
“They’ll go through phases where they’re intrigued by sound and movement, they might go to a place where they’re a little afraid of it,” Adams said of infants, “but for most who have come to the theater since they were babies, the theater is always part of their lives. Whether or not they participate in it isn’t the point, they grow to love the elements of that artistic culture.”
As much as she loves theater herself, Adams realizes getting up on stage isn’t a passion for every child. However, live performances are a great way to engage children as they’re exploring their interests. Other forms of entertainment, she said, just don’t pack the same punch as the arts. Television is passive, for example, and although the internet is participatory, she said it still can’t compare to live actors on a stage.
“When you take your little ones to the children’s theater, there’s a very human link between the audience and the performance,” she said. “The performers react differently at every single performance. They’re acting with you and because of you instead of just a programmed response. Kids feel that, they understand that something is happening here and now that would be totally different tomorrow.”
Kirt said it’s important for parents to step out of their own comfort zone to make sure their kids get the opportunity to experience the arts.
“I just think you have to recognize that your kids might learn in a different way than you did or have different interests,” she said. “If I feel reluctant to show them something because I’ve never done it, I have to remind myself I don’t have to explain it to them, I just have to experience it with them.”
Below, we reveal a handful of live holiday performances that are sure to stir up an interest in the arts. In the coming months, look for our features on how to introduce your kids to other art forms and even get them involved in local programs.
—Hannah Schmitt, managing editor
Christmas is a holiday full of spirit, song, joy to the world and pageantry, and it could be the perfect time to introduce your children to the arts in Oklahoma.
From classic holiday plays and color-filled concerts chock-full of Christmas carols to visions of sugar plums dancing across stages, the holiday productions in Oklahoma City are sure to thrill and mesmerize children of all ages.
“There is really no better season for arts opportunities than Christmas and the holidays. Christmas is full of color, music, wonder and magic, history, family, love, spirituality,” said Oklahoma City Philharmonic Executive Director Eddie Walker. “The season provides inspiration for every single aspect of creativity and performing, all built around the most important parts of peoples’ lives: faith and family.”
To start discovering ways to introduce your own kids to the arts, we’ve outlined several holiday opportunities.
“A Christmas Carol” at Lyric Theatre
A quintessential play about the meaning of Christmas, “A Christmas Carol” at the Lyric Theatre at the Plaza, is a new tradition in Oklahoma City for families, and it’s the perfect venue to introduce your children to the joys of attending the theater.
The play, now in its fourth year running at Lyric, is a spectacular holiday production of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas novel. Audience members and children travel on a magical journey with the grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge as he revisits his choices with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
“Theatre is a wonderful way to expose children to the arts, and spark their creative energies. In Lyric’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ alone, there is dancing, music and visual art in the sets and costumes,” said Allie Tabberer, marketing associate at Lyric Theatre.
“In addition, because Lyric’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is based upon a piece of classic literature, children also learn about how stories transform from the page to the stage. With seven child performers in every show, children can also watch their peers performing, and possibly spark their own performing talents.”
The ghosts, particularly the ghosts of Jacob Marley and of Christmas Future, can be scary for younger children. Most are spooked because of Marley’s booming voice and his costume of clanking and heavy chains and by the spooky specter of the ghost of Christmas Future.
“We believe it is appropriate for all ages, but of course leave it up to parents’ discretion as to what bothers their children, and how best to handle those situations,” Tabbener said.
• “A Christmas Carol” opens Nov. 28 and runs through Saturday, Dec. 27. Show times vary.
• Location: Lyric Theatre at the Plaza, 1727 N.W. 16th St.
• Tickets: $40
• 524-9310, www.lyrictheatreokc.com
Canterbury Christmas Concert
At 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, the Canterbury Choral Society presents their annual Christmas concert, a Canterbury Christmas.
Now a holiday tradition for Oklahomans, this vocal extravaganza is community-centered and features familiar songs associated with the holidays. Joining the show this year are the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and the children of Canterbury Youth Choruses and the annual holiday carol sing-a-long is always an audience favorite. And who knows? Santa may also pay a visit!
“Canterbury believes children who are educated and will mature in the 21st century will need the most complex, intuitive and aesthetically-enriched skills of any previous generation,” said the organization’s Executive Director Kay E. Holt.
Again this year, families are asked to bring a “can” to Canterbury to support the Regional Food Bank and an unwrapped gift or toy to support the Christmas Connection.
What’s more, a special price is offered this fall/winter season for families. Through December, families can pay $5 for three shows in bronze balcony seating.
“There will be a children’s choir performing on the stage, too—so they can see what other kids are doing,” said Artistic Director Randy Ellefson.
Children are welcome, Ellefson added, and the performance offers a good opportunity to talk to them about concert behavior.
• “Canterbury Christmas” is at 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7
• Location: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.
• Tickets: $5 and up
• 232-7464, www.canterburyokc.com
Oklahoma City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
The Oklahoma City Ballet once again presents a magical world of dancing sugar plum fairies, the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince in Devon Energy Corporation’s all-new production of “The Nutcracker” with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
This year’s production will be a special treat for children who have never seen the famous holiday ballet. Thanks to a half-million-dollar gift from Devon Energy, Artistic Director Robert Mills has collaborated with Emmy Award-winning Scenic Designer Gregory Crane and Costume Designer Suzanne Hubbs to re-imagine this holiday classic, taking the ballet to a new level of excellence with brand new sets and costumes.
“Perhaps the best thing parents can do is read the story of ‘The Nutcracker’ with children before seeing the performance, then say, ‘Now we get to go see all of this happen in real life,’” said Rachel Robb, public relations and marketing director for Oklahoma City Ballet. “Children love getting dressed up in their holiday dresses and suits. We see them dancing in the lobby during intermission.”
Parents should encourage kids to be quiet and respectful of the dancers while they’re on stage, as well, while enjoying the show.
• “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 13 to 22, 7 p.m. on Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturdays & Sundays and 7 p.m. on Mondays.
• Location: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.
• Tickets: On sale Nov. 3
• 843-9898, www.okcballet.com/
The Christmas Show by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Pops Series
Music, singing, dancing and Santa Claus — “The Christmas Show” by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Pops Series has it all, ensuring it will be a hit for patrons young and old.
A holiday treat for the entire family, “The Christmas Show” is a Broadway-style, Yuletide variety show with singers, dancers, comedy, favorite music and full costumes and sets. From charming novelty numbers to inspiring Christmas hymns, the Philharmonic will move you with the spirit of the season.
“Dance, music-making, painting and crafts, storytelling … it all comes alive,” said Philharmonic Executive Director Eddie Walker.
• “The Christmas Show” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Dec. 5 and 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 6.
• Location: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.
• Tickets: $15 and up
• 842-5387, http://bit.ly/ChristmasShowTix
A Territorial Christmas Celebration
Step back to a simpler time during the “A Territorial Christmas Celebration” in Guthrie.
Staying true to its pioneer roots, Guthrie’s event will include a live theatre production, historic home tours, live performances and so much more.
The event kicks off with “A Territorial Christmas Carol” at the Pollard Theatre, an Oklahoma version of the famous “Christmas Carol” complete with Ebenezer Scrooge.
This production depicts the classic tale from Charles Dickens set in the days of the Oklahoma Land Run.
Families can also enjoy the Christmas Parade in Guthrie and wave to Santa Claus as he rides by. At the post office, carriage rides will be available and the new Territorial Governor will be announced.
“It’s a perfect time to give kids an educational experience of what it was like during the Land Run days,” said Nell Thalasinos, committee member for the event. “Kids learn how Christmas was celebrated, and what kids did during that time period.”
• Lighted Christmas Parade: Dusk on Nov. 29; free
• Victorian Walk Evenings: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20; free
• Historic Homes Tour: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 13; $15 for adults, $3 for children age 13 to 18, free for everyone under age 13.
• Territorial Christmas Carol: Nov. 28 to Dec. 21, times vary; $27.25 general admission, $24.50 for seniors & military, $16.25 for students. This is a family-friendly show but children under 5 are discouraged from attending because of frightening scenes. Infants will not be allowed.
[Editor’s Note: Look for additional holiday shows on our calendar at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/Calendar/]