There’s never a more beautiful sound to me than a child making noise during a quiet moment of a performance. When it happens, I can feel the adult discomfort. A discomfort that comes from a place that assumes performances are one-way streets: the artist outputs a performance and the audience takes it in. It’s an idea that probably finds its origins in historical church services or mass where guests remain mostly silent unless collectively making noise like a spoken prayer, and abide in a space of respect towards an authority at the front.
And performance can be a religious experience. I know I’ve felt that before. I’ve said it many times that going to see live music is my church. It’s time we spend together, present with one another, with a singular goal: to enjoy, to be challenged, and to feel our place in a larger community. Those of us who work in performance know the reality that audiences don’t just come out to shows to see an artist they love. They show up to see friends and family they love.
That’s why the idea of performance as a cul-de-sac doesn’t serve us any longer. Our world has broadened, changed, and grown. Our communities are made up of families of all shapes and types. A performance can see single-parent families, couples, 8-child families, singles with their chosen family, and a million more variations of persons in an audience. No matter the makeup of those individuals’ social or family circle, they all have the same need to belong. Every one of them has an appetite for socializing and cultural experiences.
So this is why I state this clearly and firmly: bring your kids to performances. Yes, choose shows with appropriate content. If you’re unsure, the workers running box offices and ticket hubs are always prepared to provide more information to equip parents in making the right decision. But with the wide array of performances out there, something will always meet the register of what a parent deems appropriate for their child or teenager. Those same box offices are also equipped to help you find out about the services they provide to accommodate families with both neurotypical and neurodivergent children. Sometimes a venue’s website will even outline the resources such as changing tables, quiet spaces, suggestions on seatings, and a reaffirmation of their excitement to have whole families, not just the parents, at performances. Our arts and performance spaces work hard to be venues where everyone belongs and in the last few years, there’s been so much attention and work that’s gone into realizing ways we can accommodate children and youth.
Because no matter the age, youth deserve performance too. As a creative professional, I think every day about the cultural landscape we’re building for the next generation. I fell in love with performance because as young as twelve I was going to all-ages venues to see rock shows. At 15 I was going to alcohol-free music festivals where I fell in love with the energy and excitement of hour after hour of music. At those events, I learned how to behave, how to have good etiquette and be respectful, but I also learned how to love music. I chose a career in music and performance because from the moment I came of age I knew I had to be around it.
Our industry takes much work and many hands. To keep providing classical and theatre and rap and alternative shows and festivals, you need musicians and actors and all types of performers. You also need sound techs and stage managers and bookers and agents and managers and more. There are endless ways to participate in the creative industry—an industry that makes up over 7% of Nova Scotia’s GDP and employs nearly 30,000 workers.
There’s more to it than showing our youth career options too. Performance is also a self-care habit. When we teach our children to enjoy music and performance, we’re teaching them how to belong, how to find their crowd, and how to socialize and network. We’re teaching them that with culture their lives can be more beautiful. So start them young and give them that gift. Don’t ever think a child’s cry is ruining a performance. It’s just the sound of a new generation of our cultural environment.