Excuses, Excuses (Solutions, Solutions?)

When I was a student, going to shows (concerts, screenings, happenings) was easy – I’d leave the dorm, get on the subway, pay $10 at the door, buy a $3 diet coke, and get home around 2am.  Most non-profit venues had student discounts, so sometimes I used to catch 2-3 shows a day. Easy.

Obviously, getting out of the house with two kids is harder – but can the obstacles be overcome?

I’d like to present to you a hypothetical budget for a hypothetical outing at Joe’s Pub, a local NYC performance space, just to illustrate how a typical night out with my wife can add up:

— Two $15 tickets: $30 (plus $6 in surcharges, if you buy in advance)
— Two $12 drink minimums, plus tips: $35 (or more)
— Babysitting for the evening – $50-75
Total?: $125 – $150 (or more)

So as you see, a $15 ticket to see a show is really just an appetizer to other veiled supplementals. This summary doesn’t include, for example, the cab you’re likely going to take home late at night ($15-30), or the cab you’re likely to pay for the babysitter to head home ($30-50), or any pre-show romantic meal (Falafel at Mamoun’s = $8).   If you’re driving in from Long Island or NJ, consider the cost of parking ($30-50?) — and if you’re going to see a Broadway show (tickets = $150?!), heaven help you.

If you’re the musician or presenter of this $15 show, take note that, although your tickets may be affordable, it is everything else that adds up for the overwhelming majority of the expense. I am supremely grateful to all of our friends with kids, who come out to our shows, as it is a huge burden. At the same time, we have to find a way of making concert-going more affordable.

How can we solve this? People in their 30s-40s deserve be engaged in artistic life, and not go bankrupt.

This is really a question I’d love to pose to you.

Here are a couple of my ideas:

1) Program two concerts at once — one for adults, and one for the kids, at the same time.  The model for this is a church or synagogue service — while the adults pray in the main sanctuary, all of the children are occupied by a kids activity in an adjacent room. This lobs off the major portion of your concert going expense — childcare — or at least converts a share of that expense into giving the children a concert experience of their own.  Whenever we go out to a concert, our older son often says “I want to go to a concert, too” — and he’s right.  The adult programs do not have to be family-friendly – I can totally see a burleske show for adults parallel with a puppetry show for kids; or a Cecil Taylor concert for adults, paired with an improvisation workshop for kids.

2) Program events at a time that is reasonable for kids and adults alike.  This is a large question, because as kids grow, their bedtimes shift. Some go to bed at 7, others just start doing homework then; some kids nap at 11am and others nap at 1pm.  It’s impossible to please everyone, but I can think of at least three presenters, which strive to accommodate just this sort of thing:

— the Big Apple Circus, which has shows at 12:30, 4:30 on weekends, and 11am and 6:30pm on weekdays
Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which runs four shows on most days, and five shows on Saturdays
— and, of course, the most accommodating presenter of them all — the movies!  Showing what you want, several times a day.

Could it be that the success of these presenters is partly from the fact that they try to accommodate as many families as they can, rather than trying to squeeze everyone into a nightly 8pm slot?

3)  Include the price of a drink in your ticket price.  Would this be of interest? Lincoln Center has a fabulous late night series in the summer, where the price of admission includes a glass of wine, or sparkling water.  This makes the ticket price much easier to swallow, as it narrows down the choice, and increases overall comfort. It also means not dealing with waiters, gratuities, and interruptions. People like free drinks — a lot — even if they’re “free with the price of tuition”, as a Juilliard teacher of mine used to say.

Do you have other ideas? Let me know your thoughts – share with each other.


  • Good suggestions Ljova.

  • Natalie Sokoloff Neuert says:

    Believe me, we struggle with this as presenters. The 30 – 40 year old audience is the holy grail for us: elusive for all of the reasons you stated above. I think the best format for this is the festival or outdoor concert, for obvious reasons – although I remember spending an awful lot of time chasing kids around, as opposed to actually listening to music. I think an earlier concert time (like a Sunday afternoon at 1:00) is a good option to involve families – especially if the programming works for a range of ages. I had one kid that could sit happily through an orchestra concert, and one who STILL, at age 13 gets very antsy and ends up in the lobby. We've thought about an early concert PLUS offering baby sitting (easy for us, as University Presenters) with an activity in another space for kids. But guess who put the kibosh on that? The risk management folks: too much liability.

    • Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin says:

      Natalie, thank you for this! I'm curious, do you think the liability can be quantified? Can it be reduced? There are drop-off kid classes all over NYC, and while some do cost $40-50 each (for 45 minutes), some cost as little as $20. I'm guessing that prices in Vermont could be cheaper still. Sure, outdoor festivals are fabulous, and we eat them up all day when the weather is good — but that only speaks for two, maximum three months. What about the rest of the year?

  • Denise Ranker McGovern says:

    Totally agree! There has to be a solution. Tonight my husband and I are seeing the first show together in five years! I think it has to do with the "other stuff" rather than the concert itself. Babysitting, standing for three hours straight, driving, etc.
    I've always been a huge fan of the rush hour concert – earlier and shorter shows. Not only are you home sooner, but your time out is shorter. I'm sorry, but two children has me exhausted by 9:30. Doesn't mean that I can't enjoy a show – just less of a show sometimes!
    In Dallas we have a number of drop-off childcare places. I've never used them, but tons of people do. Could potentially be a partnership/ticket price where that's included. Then everyone gets a night out.
    But I very much enjoy your idea of parallel events. We're all looking for interesting things to do as a family that doesn't dumb down the content. There's no reason why a family event couldn't mean separate activities for a bit. A dinner, two shows and one event together at the end. I know the joy on my child's face when he comes back from Sunday School with art projects in his hands and tells me the story of the day. I see no reason why that same model couldn't work for a musical event.
    Thank you for this – it's something that I think we want as arts marketers as well as parents. I hope that someone takes the idea and runs with it!

  • Thank you for putting into words something that I find intensely frustrating! It would be great to find some solutions. I will think about it.

  • Vlada Tomova says:

    Ljova, indeed, great thoughts! the parallel concert going is genius!!

  • Vlada Tomova says:

    Ljova, great thoughts indeed! the parallel concert going in genius!

  • Saniya says:

    Any kind of publicly-available childcare comes with its own price. There is the cost of licensing, vetting the childcare providers, finding a child-safe space within the adult-oriented building. So as wonderful as it sounds to all of us with small children, I doubt that child care at the local music hall is a viable option, especially if you want it for free. Gyms and children’s art centers sometimes offer “parents’ night out” childcare, for much cheaper than the babysitter. That’s probably as close as you will get to affordable care while you go out for grown-up entertainment. Apparently from your post you do not have a problem with your boys loosing patience and starting to scream during a show. For the rest of us, Imagination Stage (children’s theater) in Bethesda has a brilliant solution to this. They have a clear plexiglass “quiet” box in a corner of the theater. The parent can take the screaming child in there and continue to watch the play without disturbing the audience. It probably downgrades the music-listening experience, but definitely takes away the anxiety of taking small kids to a concert hall.

  • Ljova says:

    a quiet box – how brilliant! that sounds like a Metropolitan Opera Patron’s wet dream — a.k.a. the coughing box, the candy unwrapping box, the “I’ve got to take this call” box. Great! 🙂

    No, we don’t let our kids scream out over the music, we ply them with food, water and books – but mostly they’re very agreeable to listen, provided they’re engaged. Benjy can sit through an hourlong concert without much fuss, Yos’ka not as much.

    I’m not really arguing for free childcare, but more for a parallel concert that will be an experience for the kids as much as adults. So yes, there would be an extra charge, but hopefully that fee would be akin to what you’d pay for 3-4 hours babysitting or even less. What do you think of that? And concerts would start earlier, e.g. 6pm on a Saturday instead of 8, to make a reasonable bed time.

    Think about places like Ikea, where you can drop off your kids in Smäland as you shop, or how they have a play area in the Cafe, so you can eat and kids can play.. Those are brilliant things we can learn from.

  • Awesome post! As a parent, a musician and an arts lover/promoter, I see all the angles. How about offering RSVP childcare at an afternoon concert (rather than having to program another performance)? Anyway, these are great thoughts – I'm totally sharing your article! – Mary Bella (Maestra Web Design).

  • Reading the post earlier about liability – perhaps partnering with a nearby childcare provider – for example, there is a church here that does “parent’s night out” events and for a small fee (which you could work into the ticket price or barter a performance slot for a reduced fee) you could work with that group to provide evening care during one of the shows.

    Speaking a mom with a 4 year old and 7 month old twins – and smack in the middle of your age range – offering a “late night date” option would be of interest to me – finding someone to watch 3 awake kids is much harder than finding someone to watch them after they have all gone to bed, which puts my departure time at about 9:00p. so a 10:00/10:30p show would be totally fun – with a drink included in the price of the ticket.

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