Anyway you define it, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) is the most family friendly place to indulge mom introduce children to the performing arts. A couple of years ago, SPAC introduced themed nights like Family Night, American Girl Night, Junior Ballerina Night, et cetera, to attract more children and families to classical performances.
What does family friendly mean at SPAC? Family nights are full of activities for children which this year included free Stewart’s ice cream, balloon animals (more like sculptures, they were so complex and innovative), photo magnets, a magician, a chalk art contest, and my personal favorite the children’s workshop on the lawn.
I can now say that my daughter has danced with the New York City Ballet! After an informal question and answer session, principal dancers Daniel Ulbricht and Abi Stafford led a ballet lesson that culminated in a choreographed performance. “Performers” ranged from three to about twelve years old and anyone could join in. For those who worry about boys and the ballet, a handful of boys participated in the lesson. In fact, a four year old boy with a fantastic leap even managed to work Star Wars into the workshop, multiple times.
If the preshow activities aren’t enough, watching the performance from the lawn (children under 12 free) takes the stress out of squirmy, thirsty and I have to pee in the middle of act one kids. Lawn patrons are far more forgiving about talking during the performance, though this is a great time to teach good theater etiquette. (I must warn you about one usher who was so mean to kids, my husband suggested that she was trying to drive them over to her gingerbread house. Avoid in earshot of her.) If you’re brave, there is also standard reserved seating in the amphitheater.
The real treat at SPAC is enjoying world class performances rather than the watered down, silly-ed up versions that are usually available to kids or the annual we’ll let kids come because these performances are a cash cow, Nutcracker. I learned my classical music from Loony Toons (How can you not think of Bugs, Elmer and “Kill da Wabbit” when you hear Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries?), took only one ballet/tap class, and really know little about the world of classical arts. Yeah, I even had to google “kill da rabbit” to find out who wrote the music.
I do, however, enjoy watching live performances. After multiple performances at SPAC, my three year old daughter now loves going to the ballet and the orchestra if she can dance. She may not grow up to be a prima ballerina (or corps de ballet) but it looks like she will grow up to be a patron and every prima ballerina needs a few thousand of those to pay her way.
Tickets: Can be purchased online or at the box office. Lawn seats are usually available before the show. Check SPAC’s website for special events or performances. If you can make it, try the August 12 Family Night with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Cirque de la Symphonie.” A circus set to classical music.
Food: Picnics on the lawn are encouraged. While vendors sell a variety of food and drink including beer and wine, avoid lines by bringing your own food and drink from town. Putnam Deli has boxed picnics for SPAC (and an adjacent wine store) or try the farmers market.
Other things to bring: Blankets or chairs (the center lawn is reserved for blankets and very short chairs), bug spray and an umbrella.