Age Appropriateness & The Theatre

There has been some interesting conversations among my fellow bloggers about the appropriateness of shows when bringing kids to the theatre. Shows generally offer suggestions pertaining to the age appropriateness of plays and musicals, which I think is a good thing. While certain shows bring up immediate red flags, like Spring Awakening and Hair, it’s good to have a disclaimers available for other shows such as August: Osage County or Billy Elliot.

I have been in some houses where I wonder what the parents were thinking bringing their children out, either because of the subject matter or because of the behavior of said children. I did a double take when I saw a 12 year old taking his seat when I saw Hair. But I’ve also been at shows where the kids aren’t the problem, it’s the parents, or just the adults in general. But when it comes down to it, I think it’s entirely the parents’ call. It reminds me of a story…

Picture it: Westchester, NY 1993. I was ten, a friend and I went to the local library to borrow Gone with the Wind. However, the librarian refused telling us we were too young and that the 1939 classic had far too many “adult themes” for us. As a result, I took the greatest offense when someone told me I wasn’t old enough to see or read or hear something. The next movie we borrowed was Doctor Zhivago, another classic with a PG-13 rating for a little adulterous suggestiveness. The same librarian ironically enough saw no problem lending us that one…

When it comes down to it, if your kid’s gonna be restless or if you feel in your discretion that the content is not right, then don’t bring your child to that show. On the other hand, if you have an old soul for a child (such as Yours Truly), don’t underestimate their ability to understand, engage and think a little more maturely than the rest. I for one would have been riveted by Mary Stuart when I was ten. But then again, my best friend at the time would not have been. C’est la vie. Parents, trust your judgment and remember that if you’re going to the spend the money for a theatre experience, you’re not alone in your living room and be mindful of the hundreds if not thousands of people with whom you’ll be sharing the experience.

All the talk has reminded me of Roger Ebert’s final note in his review of Billy Elliot back in 2000, in which he directly addresses the R-rating of the film and its language:

“Note: Once again, we are confronted by a movie that might be ideal for teenagers near Billy Elliot’s age, but has been slapped with the R rating. While kids will gladly sneak into R-rated movies they hope will be violent or scary, the R barrier only discourages them from films that could be helpful or educational. In the case of Billy Elliot the movie contains only mild violence and essentially no sex, and the R is explained entirely by the language, particularly the “F-word.” The filmmakers believe that is a word much used by British coal miners, and I am sure they are correct.

There are two solutions to the linkage of the F-word and the R rating: 1). The MPAA should concede the melancholy fact that every teenager has heard this and most other nasty words thousands of times, or 2). Filmmakers should sacrifice the F-word in order to make their films more available to those under 17.”