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Give Your Child A Dose Of Arts And Culture In Ontario

Visit The Stratford Festival For Awesome, Family-Friendly Theatre!

In late June, I had the opportunity to take my 4-year-old to her very first musical! I love musical theatre and was so excited to see what my daughter's reaction would be to all the bright lights, singing, and dancing. I wanted to find a theatre experience that wouldn't be overwhelming for her. I had thought about taking her to see The Wizard of Oz when it was in Toronto, but I worried it would be too scary. I had a feeling that the Stratford Festival would be perfect—the stages aren't too big, the special effects aren't too overwhelming, and the quality of theatre is as good as anything you could see in Toronto! Plus the way the theatres are set up, almost every seat provides a great view of the stage.

I've been to Stratford many times, but never with kids. I was excited to experience theatre through the eyes of my daughter.

By car, Stratford is just 90 minutes to two hours from Toronto. It's a picturesque Victorian town with tons of yummy restaurants, cute shops, an amazing toy store (Family And Company), a few delicious chocolate shops (Chocolate BARR's Candies and Rheo Thompson Candies), and a world-renowned theatre festival that runs every year from spring until fall. It's the kind of town that as soon as you arrive, you exhale—and you remain in that state of relaxation until you leave.

The Festival's foundation is based on the works of William Shakespeare. Each year the lineup includes a selection of masterfully produced Shakespeare plays, a selection of other classical plays, and a few big musicals.

This time we decided to visit for just a day, but I have stayed at a few different hotels in Stratford and all have been lovely. There are many accommodations that are family-friendly, and others that make the perfect kid-free getaway. Our day trip included a few of my favourite Stratford thingsa visit to the Theatre Store, a stroll along the river to look at the swans, a picnic lunch with sandwiches from York Street Kitchen, my favourite sandwich shop (seriously, I wish they'd open one in Toronto!), time to play in the amazing park right next to the Festival Theatre, an afternoon of theatre, and a delicious dinner of pizza and pasta at Pazzo. Who could ask for anything more?

That last line is a lyric from Crazy For You, the musical we spent the afternoon enjoying. A classic Gershwin show with lots of singing, amazing dancing, and loveable characters. I had seen Crazy For You in Toronto when I was a kid (my parents got me hooked on musical theatre when I was young, taking me to see shows during family vacations to Toronto). I was fairly confident that my daughter, who had just completed an amazing year of dance classes, would love the colourful costumes and incredible dancing—I was right!

She sat in her seat, mesmerized for the entire performance and she walked away singing, dancing, and able to recount much more of the story than I thought she would. When I asked her what she thought, she responded: "Are you kidding me? I LOVED it!"

If you're going to take your kids to a show at the Stratford Festival this summer, here are a few tips that will ensure your experience is a success:

  • Let the box office know you're bringing a child to the show. With each regularly priced adult ticket to any performance, you can buy up to four youth tickets for as little as $36 each.
  • Choose from one of the shows recommended for young people, which include:

Alice Through the Looking Glass: A glorious adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic that takes families on a spectacular journey into the topsy-turvy realm of the dreaming mind.

Crazy for You: The new Gershwin musical is filled with hits from the Gershwins’ glory days, along with cowboys and dancing girls certain to keep audiences of all ages wide-eyed throughout.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Love’s lunacy reaches its giddiest heights in this favourite Shakespeare comedy.

  • Be sure to get a booster seat from theatre staff (available in the Avon and Festival theatres) to ensure your little one can see over the heads in front of him/her.
  • Splurge on good seats! We were lucky enough to be seated in Row G and my daughter could see EVERYTHING. She was right in on the action, so close that at one point when the actors were frozen on stage she exclaimed, "She's breathing!"
  • Bring water and a treat. I bought some gummy candies from the concession booth before the show and allowed my daughter to quietly munch on a few throughout the performance. Because she was sitting for 2.5 hours, the treat was a bit of a distraction through the quieter scenes.
  • If your kids are little, see a matinee! If you don't want your kid nodding off during the production opt for a 2 pm show rather than an 8 pm one.
  • Note that children under two are not allowed in the theatre. These performances are highly professional and children who do attend are expected to sit attentively. I left the little one with my husband and they spent the afternoon playing outside while I got to have some mommy-daughter bonding time with my big kid. (Here is more info on the Stratford Family Experience.)
  • Make dinner reservations for after the show. We got out of the theatre around 5 pm and my daughter was hungry. Restaurants fill up in Stratford, especially during the summer, so I recommend making a reservation.
  • Have fun! There's nothing quite like the look on a child's face as they're watching the magic of musical theatre come to life before them. I loved this show so much more watching it though my daughter's eyes—seeing everything for the first time.

Shakespeare doesn't have to be something your kids suffer through in high school English. How one mom got her young son to love William's writings.

How to successfully attend theatre events with children: 8 tips to help your children's theatre experience carefree.