Arts groups are betting big on holiday programming. Will the children come?
“I haven’t been to the Met in years,” recalled 10-year-old Mattea Volpe, lamenting her trip to the opera. “I was exaggerating, but then I was like, ‘Wait, I didn’t! “”
No child had.
When she took her red velvet seat last week, Mattea became one of the first children under the age of 12 allowed to enter inside the Metropolitan Opera House since the Covid-19 pandemic has left her. forced to close in March 2020. When the Met reopened in September, its strict vaccine mandate kept young children away because they were not yet eligible for the shots. Now they are, and the fully immunized children are back – not too soon for a company that had decided to put heavy emphasis on child-friendly operas this holiday season.
The Met, whose family vacation presentations have grown in popularity in recent years, is hosting two this season. To build on the success of her popular English abridged version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, she is preparing a new offering: “Cinderella”, a 90-minute English adaptation of Massenet’s “Cinderella”. During the final dress rehearsal, Met employees could invite their fully immunized children. Mattea, whose mother plays the violin in the orchestra, whose father is the Met’s chief electrical engineer and whose grandfather Joseph Volpe ran the business for years, was among them.
“I wouldn’t say we were lucky,” said Peter Gelb, chief executive of the Metropolitan Opera, of the new vaccine eligibility which has brought a large chunk of its target audience back to opera. in no time. “But I would say we were very lucky.”
This milestone comes at an uncertain time during the pandemic. An increase in the number of cases and the spread of the Omicron variant led to the cancellation of performances of some Broadway shows after cast and crew members tested positive for the virus, and led to the cancellation of one of the city’s most popular family deals, the “Christmas Show with the Radio City Rockettes”, more than a week before Christmas.
Children are a key part of the audience that many New York City arts organizations court during the holidays. “The Nutcracker by George Balanchine” is one of the New York City Ballet’s biggest draws each year. Broadway invites families from out of town. Museums are trying to attract kids who don’t go to school, like with the new Walt Disney exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This year, many institutions are trying to deal with the upsurge in Covid cases and rapidly evolving health and safety protocols for children.
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On December 14, New York City began requiring children between the ages of 5 and 11 to show proof of a dose of vaccination at entertainment and performance venues, including on Broadway, where they were previously allowed. to enter if they could test negative, and in museums. (The Met Opera and Carnegie Hall are stricter: they will only allow fully vaccinated people to attend performances, so children under 12 must wait two weeks until they have received their last doses. .)
The new vaccine requirement took effect the day before the American Museum of Natural History opened a new kid-friendly shark exhibit. Museum officials said since the announcement of the new vaccine requirement for children, they had responded to more than 100 reimbursement requests from ticket holders in advance. The day after the rules came into effect, the museum had to turn down four families who had not seen the museum’s notifications and were unaware of the change.
Anne Canty, spokesperson for the museum, noted that it has hosted a city vaccination site since April and said that “as a scientific institution we are fully pro-vaccines and support city policies. requiring vaccines “.
Broadway and other presenters who had allowed unvaccinated children to enter with negative tests had to shift gears when the city’s new tenure took effect. It came in the middle of the City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” series of 47 performances. When the race began after Thanksgiving, the company initially decided to allow children under 12 to attend with proof of a negative PCR test taken shortly before the performance; it then adjusted to comply with the city’s mandate.
“We hope the new mandate will help further mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and allow even more people to enjoy our performances safely,” said Rob Daniels, spokesperson for the ballet.
Even though Broadway has had to endure a series of show cancellations in recent days, producers have said the new childhood immunization policy appears to be going smoothly on shows like “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Disney Theatrical Productions, which manages these shows, said in a statement that in the first few days after the new policy took effect, 98% of parties arriving at performances were prepared for protocols – the same level of compliance that they have seen since the shows returned in September.
The new vaccine eligibility rules have allowed the Met Opera to once again welcome some of its youngest performers: members of its children’s choir who are under 12.
Since August, the choir has been divided into two groups based on age and ability to get vaccinated. Vaccinated children 12 and older could rehearse at the opera, while those under 12 who could not be vaccinated rehearsed in a nearby church. But late last week, a group of around 15 under-12 choir members returned to the Met in hopes of joining the cast for the next “Tosca” airing in January.
“They have been released,” Gelb said. “We’ve had some really big kids on stage – it’ll be good to have smaller ones. “
Officials of other arts institutions in the city said they have now grown accustomed to quickly adapting to ever-changing public health guidelines. Staff at various sites worked quickly to notify ticket holders of shifts in advance via email, change signage as needed, and ensure front desk staff know who needs to be screened and to what.
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At the recent dress rehearsal for “Cinderella,” some of the returning young spectators showed up in their own costumes, sporting homemade paper wreaths and adorning their face masks with holiday ribbons.
“If you hear my voice, clap once!” Dan Marshall, a member of the Met’s education department, said, taking advantage of a classic teacher trick to tune the kids out when the show was about to begin. “Welcome to the Met. “
During the performance, Kayla Curran, a 6-year-old attending her first opera, would sometimes lean towards the aisle, her eyes wide, trying to look around the adult in front of her for a better view of the performers. So it’s no surprise that when offered the chance to take the stage after the show to meet Cinderella, Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother in person, Kayla and the others jumped at the chance.
As she walked behind the scenes, Cruz Lopez, 10, said she was thrilled to have the chance to take a day off from school and have a deadline for her report. book, but that she had some doubts about Prince Charming. “I don’t know about the prince,” she said. “He was like, ‘I really love you!’ – even if he had barely met her. “