Last month, when this column aired Gus Bessalel's tiff with the Kennedy Center over its child-admittance policy that upstaged his experience taking his 8-month-old to a Concert Hall performance, several impassioned readers responded with their opinions.
Lori Sampson wrote that she wouldn't even consider taking her 2-year-old and 6-month-old to theaters or shows other than short and informal presentations that target the youngest audiences.
"Children under a certain age cannot sit still, in virtual silence . . . for a long time, and many shows would bore kids," e-mailed Sampson, a mother and amateur actress who looks forward to taking her daughter to kid-geared productions, such as at Glen Echo Park's Adventure Theater, once she's 3. "I want to be considerate toward the adults attending shows and concerts, many of whom have young children at home and went to the time, trouble and money of getting a babysitter."
That said, Sampson added that it was "unfortunate" that the Kennedy Center did not make their kids' policy clear to the Bessalels over the phone. "Unfortunately the Ken Cen has made similar mistakes before," she wrote. "One phone-ticket agent told me I could easily obtain a returned or canceled ticket for a completely sold-out Imagination Celebration show; another operator said the Ken Cen never had that policy. The Ken Cen also does not advertise anywhere that Imagination Celebration shows sell out in advance. And they often do."
Mark Pennington of Vienna pointed out the Kennedy Center's policy was "annoyingly" incoherent. "What is the basis, he asks, "for charging full price for an 8-month-old and a discount rate for a 3-year-old? And how does that avoid having to get into an arbitrary age cutoff" that the Kennedy Center spokesman said was its intent.
Poolesville reader Dennis Minor's problem with the Kennedy Center's policy is that it admits children. "Bringing a screaming, wiggling, crying child to a performance meant for adults, especially at today's prices, ought to be a criminal offense for the parents," e-mailed Minor. "The Kennedy Center is not a baby sitter, and I do not want to listen to your brat scream, cry, moan, whistle, talk, and have to listen to you attempt to quiet your `precious darling` during the performance I have paid to hear."
Mary Knapp of Roanoke reported that the staff at the theater where she works was comforted to know that such problems aren't limited to "far-flung small cities." While Bessalel's unfortunate incident could have been avoided had the policies been clearly stated, she says, maximum occupancy requirements and safety codes make it "perfectly reasonable to expect every human being to have an assigned seat for a given performance." Furthermore, she adds, "if parents insist on exposing `babes in arms' to cultural programming, then they should also expect to pay for that child's cultural opportunity."
Finally, Gus Bessalel responds: "For the record, I'm less concerned about whether they let kids in or not, or even whether they charge for kids. My main issue is that if a policy is established, it just needs to be communicated properly. That way, the patron won't get blindsided the way we did."
The debate over offering children access to cultural events, adds Bessalel, "is certainly an important one if we want our children to develop into anything other than materialistic, TV-blind zombies. It is clear that different venues in the area vary in their approaches to making the arts available to the young. From that perspective, the Kennedy Center is a real leader."
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