Children and Art

Turning my kid into a theater nerd was not planned but probably inevitable.
I remember Showboat, too, and the out–of-town gentleman who took such pleasure in Emilia’s delight. She walked out of the theater gob-smacked and hooked.
My first non-work-related overnight away from my one-and-only child occurred in 1993 when Jim and I went to see Angels in America/Millennium Approaches. After reading the reviews, I knew I had to see it with the original Broadway cast, set and staging. It lived up to the hype and it was a life-changing experience. That’s what live theater can do, Emilia learned. That’s why we go to the theater.
Jim and I took her to see a lot of terrific productions on and around Broadway: As You Like It. Kiss Me Kate. Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and Gypsy starring Bernadette (we love you) Peters. Grown up fare. Sometimes, too grown up.
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told had great reviews and it sounded like a hoot, so I got us tickets, good seats, stage left. The curtain rises in The Garden of Eden, revealing Adam and Steve, buck naked.  The three of us sat, eyes straight ahead, frozen. Most embarrassing parenting moment ever. The rest of the show was clothed and we didn’t mention the, uh, incident until we were in the car. Emilia reassured us that she would not be scarred for life. She had known about the existence of penises going in, even seen baby boys in the altogether. Or maybe I’m making that up and she said the evening would be something to discuss with a therapist when she grew up.
I didn’t mean for this to happen, but nudity turned into a theater-going theme for us. A few years later, we saw Wit, another well-reviewed show that ends (unbeknown to me) with the heroine facing into the bright light of her own death, fully, frontally nude. We were all surprised but it was a beautiful kind of shock and we talked about what it meant on the way out.  Take me Out features scenes of a locker room full of naked, gorgeous men – she was in high school and I’d already seen it so she/we were braced. When we she was a freshman at NYU (no surprise there) we took her to Avenue Q, unprepared for the graphic puppet sex, by far the raunchiest, I-wish-I-wasn’t-next-to-my-parents moment of all.
Taking Emilia to plays and musicals was not a sex education strategy. If there was a lesson in taking her to the theater it was that anything can happen: actors forget lines, lights go out, audience members misbehave, minds are blown, hearts are opened, clothing might be shed. You never know. You open the program and you could be transported, you could be bored.  We’re all in the dark when the curtain rises, parents and children, going on the ride, in the same boat.  
In Sunday in the Park with George, Stephen Sondheim wrote a song in which an old woman names the two most important things in her life. The song is called “Children and Art.”
This post appears in Mother-Daughter Mashup, the blog I write, ping-pong style, with my 27 year old daughter, Emilia.

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