Baby Friendly Matinee performances: from the perspective of a Technical Stage Manager

by Tom Moseley, stage manager on “Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth”

For the past 10 years I have been involved with theatre and performances for children, so the idea of having accommodation for children or people with additional assistance requirements was not anything new to me. However, being involved with a show for adults who will have babies and toddlers with them was a totally new experience.

The addition of babies and toddlers in the audience impacted nearly every aspect of the performance, There were several things that I had to be aware of in the set up of the performance and during the operation of the show.

  • The Audience lights have to be kept on throughout the duration of the show so at no point during the show do the parents have a moment when they cannot see their child, and the child cannot see the parent to try and keep the child as calm as possible. Parents may have to leave the space to change their child’s nappy or if it is in too much distress.
  • The stage lighting has to be kept bright enough to make it possible to see any crawling children without impacting too heavily the more intimate scenes, so the actors don’t accidentally trample babies during scene changes.
  • The audio has to be loud and clear enough to be heard, but not loud enough to startle and upset the children, which ends up being one of the toughest thing to get right when operating a show in a space for the first time.
  • Toddlers will move around the performance space, there is no way of avoiding it, so the cast has to be aware of their surroundings at all times and for all moves, so do I. Being flexible with timings for the scenes, sometimes they will run longer because of baby intervention, making music run out before the end of a scene, being able to loop it as seamlessly as possible is a consideration that has to be at the back of my mind. Exactly the same issue with scene changes themselves, they may take longer with babies moving around the space. I find there are a few parallels with performing promenade shows, having audience members in your way that you have to be aware of at all times.
  • At the end of the show the audience will stay in the space for upwards of 35 minutes to speak to each other and the cast, so having enough audience music is a must, I was totally unprepared for the amount that parents do not want to return back to the house, causing the length of time that they stay in the auditorium to be quite large for a show this length.

Overall the atmosphere of our baby friendly matinee shows is very different than our purely adult evening shows, the baby friendly matinee shows have a far more relaxed atmosphere, this developed over the duration of the run, I am sure this is to actually put the parents themselves at ease and to make them feel as comfortable as possible that it is ok that their baby makes a noise (or lots of noise), one thing to note is that when one baby starts making noise it spreads to the rests of the babies like a wave across the entire auditorium, being somewhat reminiscent of being trapped inside a playgroup. To put it in noise perspective, babies have been measured crying between 115-130 decibels, which is as loud as a siren, or the legal limit for a concert. So 20 babies crying at once during a particularly emotional scene will never not be absolutely hilarious and mortifying in equal measure.

Another thing to watch out for with baby friendly matinee shows is that toddlers really add to the show in a way that only toddlers can, the freedom to roam about the stage has left some particularly hilarious moments, making it a real struggle to not laugh so loud that the audience notices my existence, my particular favourite was seeing a child decide that the floor was her mortal enemy and so headbutt it with enough force to sound like a bass drum, get back up and keep waddling around the stage like it never happened.

This show is the single most positive show that I have ever been involved in, the audience are always itching to leave their positive comments and go out of their way to speak to the cast. It resonates with parents in a way that is unlike anything I have ever worked on, and the baby friendly matinee is the one that makes it obvious that the show has a purpose, seeing new mothers having the ability to relate to a show and to other mothers, to know that their struggles are completely normal is absolutely magical, and any inconvenience from children making noise is shared by the entire audience who all relate and understand the embarrassment and that it is not anything to worry about because everyone’s baby will be doing it.

In conclusion the baby friendly matinees as a technical stage manager can be hilarious, complicated, noisy and go on much longer than you expect them to, but no matter how they go they are always different and unique.