Frank X and David Sweeney in Arden Theatre Co’s Peter Pan
Tips for Running Effective Post Shows for Young Audiences (ages 3-11 edition)
by Sally Ollove
When thinking about post show discussions for young audiences, it’s easy to assume that they should run similarly to those for adults with only the sophistication of questions differing. That’s what I did when I ran my first one after a production of The Secret Garden. As dramaturg on a production of Peter Pan done by the Arden Theatre, I observed a well-oiled children’s post show machine. A lot of what they did worked really well, and when I went on to design or advise for other companies, I used my Peter Pan experience as a baseline as I experimented a little bit with the formula. I’ve found that post show discussions for young audiences are one of the best ways to introduce kids to the craft of theatre, expand their understanding of what is involved in a production, and contribute to an overall great experience that hopefully keeps them coming back!
I’ve found the following tips handy—some are traditional attributes of adult post shows that also work with kids, and others might not be so obvious to those used to mature audiences.
- Do not release kids’ attention until you are done. The most effective way to handle this that I have seen is to consider the talkback part of the show. Whereas it’s common practice to let audiences have a chance to leave or take care of human needs in between curtain call and discussion, I’ve found trying to get back the attention of kids once they think the show is over is like trying to climb a mountain. Start the talkback right away. One variation that has worked, however, is if your audience is reasonably sized, letting the kids gather at the front of the stage allows them to see things up close and personal—especially great if you’re demonstrating puppets. However, you will lose a good section of the audience in the transition.
- Consider letting a cast member run the talk back instead of yourself. I know this one is tough for dramaturgs used to interacting with audiences. But the truth is: kids form a relationship with the actors and characters. They feel like they know them. Asking questions in front of a lot of people can be scary—especially for the youngest ones. Add a stranger into the mix, and some might be too intimidated. Generally the most approachable or warmest person in the cast is a great choice. For Gas & Electric Arts’ production of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, our moderator played the mother in the show and kids just fell in love with her—it made it very easy for them to ask questions.
- Each cast member should introduce themselves by naming the character they played and their real name. The younger ones in particular have a hard time separating actor from character. The more this can be re-iterated, the better, as understanding this basic idea is crucial to understanding the art form. At the same time, don’t be a jerk about it and completely ruin the magic. An example: I worked on a production of Peter Pan. In the post-show, a very concerned child wanted to know where Captain Hook’s mother was. The quick-thinking actor responded “Well, I don’t know, but I think she’s probably not too far away, and Captain Hook probably writes to her a lot.” This preserved the idea that Captain Hook was a person who had a real identity that could be called up, and maybe a life offstage. He then continued: “My name is Frank, and my mother lives in New Jersey.” This highlights the difference between the actor and the character without forcing the idea that Captain Hook is not a real person on them.
- Each cast member should pick one or two things they are an “expert” on so everyone gets to talk. This one also happens in adult talkbacks, so probably doesn’t need explanation. It just makes things easier. It’s a little trickier when a cast member moderates because they are often put in the position of being asked a question that pertains to their character or action, but as much as they can toss things back to other cast members, the better.
- The moderator should repeat every question. This one also often happens in adult talkbacks, but kids aren’t always great about editing their questions in their head, so some much needed clarity can come from repetition.
- Kids don’t always have a question when they raise their hands. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be called on. Sometimes they’ll come up with one on the spot, other times the moderator will have to make something out of a bunch of nothing.
- The more you can credit the designer or crew member by name, the better. Kids, especially the young ones again, have a tendency to think the actors did everything they see including building the set and making the costumes. The more the actors who are answering can identify a designer AND USE THEIR NAME, the easier the concept of a costume designer is to grasp. A costume designer can be a tough concept for someone who doesn’t really know how their own clothes get in their closet. “These clothes were made for us by Mary. We call Mary the costume designer, because she decided what we would wear and how we would look” carries a little more weight. In some cases, I’ve seen offstage crew used very effectively to demonstrate a stagecraft technique from the show (trapdoors and quick changes are popular). This not only shows the tech behind the illusion, but also shows the kids that there are people involved backstage who they might not have seen onstage.
- Fairness is really important. This means making sure to pick from all sections of the audience and not picking the same child twice if there are others with raised hands.
- Give warning when time is running out and you are only taking one or two more questions. One thing the Arden does is have this person be a cast member other than the moderator. I’m not sure this is necessary, but it does mean the moderator doesn’t have to keep track of time in the midst of everything else.
- Keep it short. They have been sitting for a long time. 15 minutes is ample. But, I would recommend asking the actors to stick around for about 5 more minutes if they can so kids who didn’t get picked can ask questions if they want. This relates back to that fairness thing.
- Enjoy! How often do you get asked your favorite color at a post show?
Mary Tuomanen, David Blatt, and Waddles in Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Sally Ollove’s most recent children’s theatre role was as dramaturg for Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins at Gas and Electric Arts
Conceived and Directed by Lisa Jo Epstein
Adapted by Jacqueline Goldfinger from the book by Eric Kimmel
Music by Gregg Mervine of West Philadelphia Orchestra
Puppetry by Martina Plag
Performers: David Blatt, Mary Kay Tuomanen, Lorna Howley, Leila Ghaznazi and John Greenbaum