Theater for Babies: 5 NYC Shows Aimed at Very Young Audiences
It's no surprise that NYC kids have a reputation for being sophisticated. After all, we culture-loving parents have been dragging them to museums and movies since before they could walk and talk. However, traditionally parents have waited until their kids were old enough to sit quietly in a seat for an hour without screaming or puking before attempting to bring them to live theater—even most NYC puppet troupes recommend their shows for ages 3 and up.
But recently I've noticed an intriguing trend: live shows aimed specifically at toddlers and babies. Theater for extremely young audiences was originally developed by companies in Europe and Australia, and both the New Victory and BAM have imported some of these shows to NYC. Now local children's theater companies are getting into the genre, too, creating work geared toward the under 4 set. While the shows feature a wide variety of styles and themes, all are short, intimate, interactive and eye-catching—pretty important when you're playing to a crowd that's too young to understand dialog or plot. Plus no one is expected to stay in their seats.
Here are five live theater experiences for babies and toddlers coming up this May.
Hatched – Midtown West & Fort Greene
Thursday, May 1 and Friday, May 2 at 11am at the Ailey Citigroup Studio Theater, 405 West 55th Street at Ninth Avenue
Thursday, May 8 and Saturday, May 10 at 11am at BAM Fisher Fishman Space, 321 Ashland Place between Lafayette Avenue and Hanson Place
The show's subtitle says it all: "an Interactive performance about life on the farm for babies, toddlers and preschoolers." Created by NYC-based dance-theater company Treehouse Shakers, Hatched follows the journey of a newborn chick emerging from her shell at sunrise to a colorful and busy world. The show features handcrafted puppets, live music, dance and sparse dialog. Kids are encouraged to interact with all of the animal characters (they get to feed the chicks and lamb, and are licked by the cow) so there's no way they'll get fidgety, A gentle first-time theater experience that introduces tots to the wonders and immediacy of live entertainment.
Bedtime – Fort Greene
Friday, May 2-Sunday, May 4. See our listing for the complete schedule.
BAM Fisher Fishman Space, 321 Ashland Place between Lafayette Avenue and Hanson Place
Created by Katarsis, a well-regarded children’s education company from Spain, this intimate 45-minute show features a pair of pals who turn bedtime into playtime as pillows transform into wings, sheets change into flags, and even towels become imaginary playthings. Expect lots of audience participation and, inevitably, no sleep. Kids are encouraged to come in their PJs so they'll be extra into it.
Baby Rave – Midtown West
Wednesday, May 7-Sunday, May 18. See our listing for the complete schedule.
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Ages 4 months-4 years
A G-rated dance party for the diaper set from Ireland's Young at Art. Babes can shake their booties as a DJ spins age-appropriate music and eye-popping projections turn the theater into a cool kiddie club. Parachutes, inflatables, sensory toys and dance leaders round out the interactive fun.
Puppetsburg – Williamsburg
Various locations and shows. Visit the website for a complete schedule.
We first wrote about this Brooklyn-based troupe back in 2011 when it was still called Puppetonia. Rechristened Puppetsburg, the educational theater company offers 10-week seasons of different interactive performances every session, so it's a sort of hybrid class/show. It's also very Brooklyn: the puppets have tattoos, and there's also cool music, dancing and bubble time. Want to check it out before committing to an entire semester? $20 drop-ins are available at 80 Metropolitan Avenue between Wythe and Kent Avenues in Williamsburg on Thursdays at 10am, and at 568 Union Avenue between Frost and Richardson Streets on Thursdays at 1pm (an RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org is required to avoid overbooking). Puppetsburg can even bring its offerings to your building's playroom or community room—you can book a demo show for $20 per kid to gauge interest.
Spellbound Theatre – Brooklyn
Various locations and programs. Visit the website for a complete schedule.
Another Brooklyn-based company that specializes in original, multidisciplinary shows for tots, Spellbound also offers ongoing educational programs for babies and toddlers, including weekly drop-in storytimes, multisession creative play classes that explore different art forms each week (puppetry, storytelling, movement, dance), and monthly family arts days. Spellbound also mounts interactive public performances and is currently developing a brand-new work: Grump. There aren't any upcoming shows at this time, but you can get a sense of Spellbound by emailing and requesting to drop in to a class.