I’m grateful to my parents for many things: my education, encouraging my writing, happy holidays, raising me in New York City, and heir sterling examples of community service and devotion. And of course, their love.
I’m also grateful that they exposed me to the city’s cultural riches, from museums to theater. Without asking whether or not I was interested, they started taking me to operas when I was 12. At an even-younger age, I was accompanying them to concerts, musical theater and ballet. There was no hesitation or apologizing; they simply assumed I’d be interested.
I remember glorious nights on Broadway and off-Broadway and Shakespeare in the Park. American classics and Jewish theater and Yiddish theater, theater in big venues and in JCCs and on side streets. It was the start of a magnificent, fun, interesting, and inspiring journey.
Some people might see their lack of “asking permission” as “presumptuous,” but I thought it reflected their faith in me–that I might very well like and understand what they liked and understood. It was a bond between us.
My older brother, who was more “rebellious” in his youth, decided he didn’t like opera–surely the grandest form of theater–because our parents did. Yet, somewhere in high school, his music teacher convinced him otherwise. My brother began, surreptitiously, to listen to Puccini’s “La Boheme” (warning me not to tell our parents). Eventually, he became a regular opera goer, even during four years of medical school. (Of course, at that point, my parents were aware–and “kvelled,” a Yiddish word for drawing satisfaction from the actions of others, especially children.) Only recently did he admit to me how grateful he was, particularly to my father, to introducing him to all that “gorgeous music.” And to the shows of Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, etc.
I tried with my own children to apply the same “lesson.” Sure, I exercised some caution. I remember the friendly “debate” I had with dear Sam Kuba, Theatre Harrisburg’s executive director, about bringing or not bringing my children to see “The Man of La Mancha.” It was a special production–the last show at the “old house” before the move to Whitaker Center for musicals. On the one hand, it was one of my favorite shows, dramatically powerful. On the other, I was concerned about that one scene between the mutineers and Dulcinea.
But a few years later, I did take them to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” at Theatre Harrisburg–even though we had to do a little talking about the near-seduction scene. But they could “handle” it at that point. And the older one could almost handle (we saw it at her insistence) “Veronica’s Room,” at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg–probably the scariest play we took in while in centrall Pa. There were shows “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (with the late Mark Arner), which was a little risque but hilarious. A couple in the row ahead of us walked out, but we aced it.
After a while, my kids developed their own tastes — and that was fine. In fact, that was wonderful. But I wanted them to be exposed to theater, lots of theater, and appreciate its wonders. Later, they could decide.
Recently, I was particularly pleased that our older daughter (who squirmed through her first live show, “The Secret Garden,” many years ago) sat through “Richard III” at the Folger Theatre, mesmerized. More importantly, she was not intimidated by our “adult views” when we discussed the play later but stood up for her own viewpoint.
Something funny happened that night. We noticed that the woman sitting next to me was accompanied by a boy who looked to be no more than 12, maybe less. We kind of wondered, maybe he was really too young for all that blood and gore and palpable evil. But when the performance was over, I commended him for being so attentive.
His mother laughed. She said he really had no choice–he was one of the understudies.
Some parents might have hesitated, but she had confidence in her choice. The boy looked excited, probably waiting his turn for the spotlight.