For many of us parents, lots of things fall by the wayside once a baby arrives. Like sleep. And laundry. And hobbies. Whereas before parenthood, it might have seemed like you had all the time in the world to hear your favorite bands perform, climb mountains, or brew kombucha, now it’s like, good luck going to the bathroom.
Even if you believe, in theory, in date nights and babysitters, it can still be tough to make time for your own pursuits: Babysitters cancel. Leaving a young child at home and traveling far from them can be stressful, especially on new parents. Sometimes, in the chaos of family life, planning “me time” or a night out just seems to take too many steps.
The directors of one theater in Seattle know this, and together with a local, arts-focused child-care center and preschool, they have created a unique solution for parents who love theater* and don’t want to lose their connection to the arts while raising wee ones.
On the Boards, a theater in lower Queen Anne that hosts contemporary performing artists, has arranged a child-care program for children ages 2−6 that can easily be added on when parents purchase tickets to select shows. This can be done online, by phone, or in person up to 24 hours before the show (that’s for us, my fellow last-minute thinkers!). Parents can buy child care in a 2.5-hour block ($9 per hour per child) for the theater’s Sunday 5 p.m. shows this season.
This might not seem revolutionary on its face, but it is. While many museums and theaters in the Puget Sound region have developed world-class family-friendly and parent-plus-tot programs, it is rare to find a program focused on making it easier for new parents to remain ꟷ or become ꟷ arts patrons on their own. As parents to young children, we can sometimes feel a bit like ghosts in the city that once was ours, our favorite adult-focused haunts traded for an endless rotation of kiddie museums and playgrounds.
“We noticed people would come to our shows, come to our shows, come to our shows … and then they'd get married and, you know, stop coming to our shows for five or six years,” says Betsey Brock, On the Board’s director of patron relations. They often come back eventually, Brock says. “But we wanted to fill that gap."
Through the On the Boards program, parents get a few hours to relax and engage in the arts. What do kids get? An arts-focused session of care and activities at Sweet Pea Cottage (most shows offer care located at Sweet Pea Cottage’s Queen Anne location; occasionally care is offered right at the On the Boards theater).
"It's not just babysitting,” explains Cara Anderson-Ahrens, in charge of development and outreach at Sweet Pea. “They play games, they do artwork, and they have a performance piece that they do because their parents are seeing a performance piece."
Because the preschool is arts-focused, the partnership for child care during shows made perfect sense, says Anderson-Ahrens. Community artists and artistic directors have sent their kids to Sweet Pea, and many members of the staff have been playwrights, artists and dancers. "It's great cross-pollination," Anderson-Ahrens says.
On the Boards is going into its second season offering the child-care program and is still working to get the word out. "We wanted to make child care one less thing that people have to think about. It definitely has sparked a lot of conversation in the community,” says Clare Strasser, director of audience services at On the Boards, who adds that she has heard murmurings that some other events spaces might consider a similar offering.
The idea stemmed from conversations at the theater about barriers to access. Another barrier, cost, led to the development of a ticket bank.
On the Boards hosts a range of contemporary shows, spanning theater, dance and hybrid performance works. The works are conversation-inducing and provocative; for instance, Oil Pressure Vibrator, featuring Korean artist Geumhyung Jeong in her Seattle debut (child care available for the Jan. 29 performance), asks: "How can a body or an object be transformed by desire, fantasy and possibility? Physicality mixes uneasily with machinery in games of tenderness, risk and sex featuring a CPR dummy and an excavator. Is this love?"
That's a change from diapers, right?
The 2016–2017 season series runs through May 21. Go get your theater on.
*Full disclosure: This year I will be responding to some On the Boards shows as an invited 2016/17 Writer Ambassador. I will definitely be leaving my kids behind.