Moms of preschoolers: Are you ready to incorporate The Nutcracker into your holiday traditions, but wondering if your child is ready for the show? I attended the dress rehearsal of Boston Ballet’s performance of Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House with my nearly 4-year-old son to find out exactly what it’s like to attend with a young child, and we had a fabulous time on our mother-son date at the ballet. Here are some tips for you and your young ballet-goer to have a wonderful time, too.
Get there early — but not too early.
Doors to the theater open promptly 30 minutes before the performance begins. If you arrive any earlier than that, you must wait in the Opera House lobby. With his excitement about the show, my son was fidgety during this wait time, and it was challenging to keep him occupied. I would recommend arriving as close to the time doors open as possible to minimize the amount of time your child will need to wait, while still allowing you plenty of time to find your seats.
Eat a snack before you arrive.
The Opera House offers pretzels, candy, water, and apple juice for purchase, but other food options for younger children are limited. Consider having a small snack before arriving at the theater to prevent meltdowns— and so you can focus on the performance.
Grab a booster seat.
The booster seat was a lifesaver — without one, my son would not have been tall or heavy enough to sit in his own seat. You can find the booster seats in a number of locations in the back of the theater. An usher also can point you in the right direction.
Help your child get acclimated to the surroundings.
Once we settled into our seats, my son became quite scared (ok, hysterical) at the sight of the set on stage prior to the show (see photo below). To help him become more comfortable, I had him sit on my lap, facing away from the stage. I told him he could turn around and peek at the dancers until he was ready to watch it on his own. Within five minutes of the ballet’s start, the show had him — unsurprisingly — completely engrossed and fully facing the stage in his own seat.
The theater also becomes very dark once the show starts. If your child is frightened of the dark, take a few moments to prepare him or her before the lights go down. The show begins almost immediately once this happens, so you will quickly have an opportunity to redirect his or her attention.
Have fun during intermission.
During the break, characters are available in the lobby to meet children and take photographs — my son loved meeting the bunny in particular. On your way back inside, be sure to grab a special free Nutcracker crown available on display in the lobby.
Explain what’s happening on stage.
I found it helpful to explain to my son what to expect as he watched, so he could be even more engaged with what he saw on stage. Use the program as your guide, or even refresh your knowledge of The Nutcracker before arriving at the theater. The Boston Ballet's performance features lots of young dancers and dances at both fast and slow speeds, a variety that made it exciting to watch. The opening scene of the second act was a particular favorite, with many short, rapid-paced dances that made it easy for him to pay attention.
Enjoy a bite to eat after the show.
After the performance, we headed to Jacob Wirth on Stuart Street — a less than 10 minute walk from the Opera House. A Boston landmark since 1868, the restaurant has a wide range of meal options and a casual atmosphere.
Our experience at The Nutcracker could not have been better, and I would recommend it to a parent of a child his age and above. My son also gives it two thumbs up—in fact, he has already been planning his trip to see it next year.
Top photo: Delia Wada-Gill as Clara (center) and students of Boston Ballet School in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet. All other photos by the author.