BWW JR: PLAYTIME- Parents Finding Their Way Back To The Theatre
When playwright and performer Stephen Kaplan and his husband Will Nolan became parents, they assumed that there would be certain things they'd have to give up. I know, crazy right? My life has remained EXACTLY the same as before I became the mother of two kids.....And that would be a big lie. But I digress....
Like most families, Stephen and Will and their five year old son are busy, tackling career and school and all the other aspects of family life with little time to spare. It's easy to let things like going to the theatre fall to the bottom of your list of priorities. (Because who wants to see an amazing, new, Off-Broadway play when you can schlepp to Costco or soccer class?).
But for Stephen (pictured right), a member of BMI who's plays have been produced at HERE, The Old Globe, Edinburgh Fringe and more, giving up on seeing theatre just wasn't an option.
Along came PLAYTIME!, the first-ever child enrichment program that provides art, culture and care for kids while their parents see Off Broadway shows in New York City.
Here's how it works: On PLAYTIME event days (they happen a couple of times a month), anyone holding tickets to a participating PLAYTIME show can enroll their child in the program for $15, no matter how long the show is. Participating theatre companies include Playwrights Horizons and Signature Theatre as well as the shows "Love, Loss and What I Wore" and "Rated P".
The care is provided by the "ArtiSitters" from Sitters Studio, a professional childcare service that combines art with babysitting. All of the babysitters are also working artists. We're talking dancers, musicians, circus performers and more. They are well trained with full background checks like the sitters from any childcare service, but they provide something more: And artistic and cultural experience for your child that is unique, inspiring and fun.
The whole thing takes place in the rehearsal studios at Playwrights Horizons, where the idea for PLAYTIME was born.
"Playtime's a great program and has made it so much easier to be a parent and theatre-goer," says Kaplan, "and our son, already obviously interested in theatre because of his parents, is even more excited to get to play in rehearsal rooms and be surrounded by other kids whose parents love theatre. It makes it even cooler to be part of a club like that."
The whole project came into being when Playwrights Horizons' Executive Director Leslie Marcus, a mother of two, made it her mission to create an environment for theatre going parents that made attending the theatre more convenient and affordable.
"We provide arts based childcare for children between the ages of four and twelve." Says Marcus. "The great thing about it, besides that it's a really fun experience for the kids, is that it's very affordable. The whole idea of the program is to make theatre going affordable for parents while the kids are having a great time themselves."
Arts-based child care at an affordable price while parents enjoy top-notch New York theatre? It' can't be true! This past weekend I had the opportunity to check it out for myself. I went to see RATED P, one of the participating PLAYTIME shows which I reported on last year, and I spent some time at PLAYTIME. (To be clear, I had planned on enrolling my eight year old but it conflicted with her book club. Come on! They were discussing Nim's Island....Did you know that the book is completely different from the Jodie Foster film?)
What I saw really impressed me. Parents visit the PLAYTIME check-in desk up to 45 minutes before their show starts. All the participating shows are within a one-block radius of the Playwrights Horizons building (Signature is literally next door). Hesitant children are instantly swept up in the magical, Marry Poppins-like glow that seems to emanate from every one of the uniformed ArtiSitters. A nervous four year old became an enthusiastic sketch artist within five minutes of stepping off the elevator, and that same child barely said "Goodbye" to his mom as he eagerly followed one of the caregivers upstairs to the main studio space for a Pirate-themed afternoon of crafts, music and improv. I can't wait to bring my daughter back next month to try it out for herself. Take that, book club!
"We love that each session is so packed with creative games and projects," says Kaplan. "He's always mad at us when we pick him up and tell him it's time to go home".
I hope that PLAYTIME continues to get its much-needed funding. This type of thing should become an industry standard. It's great for parents, great for kids, and ultimately great for the theatre industry because PLAYTIME brings the parent market back to the theatre.
GET TO THE POINT, MOM!
- Arts-based child care for kids ages four through twelve while their parents see shows at Playwrights Horizons, Signature Theatre or the Westside Theatre.
- It's $15 per kid no matter how long your show is.
- All children must be potty trained.
- Care provided by the working artists or "ArtiSitters" from Sitters Studio.
- For more information, including a calendar of PLAYTIME! events and the shows that are playing on those days, visit the PLAYTIME! website at http://www.playtimenyc.org/
- I have nothing against book club, Costco or soccer class.