a peek inside the fishbowl

22 Nov, 2009

Family Adventures at the NAC

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Giveaways and product reviews

Before I launch into this post I’d like to welcome a new Fishbowl sponsor…  The National Arts Centre! The NAC is the epicentre of Ottawa’s arts and culture scene. Music, dance, theatre – you’ll find it all here.  Did you know that the NAC is the only multidisciplinary, bilingual performing arts centre in North America? And one of the largest in the world? And they are here, in Ottawa! 

It would be easy for an old skool kind of organization like the NAC to rest on their laurels and continue along a comfortable path, but they’re taking innovative approaches to attract new audiences and continually reaching out to the youth of our community and I think that’s pretty cool.

Besides, who says the arts should only belong to the grown ups? Ah, that’s a post for another day. Today I want to talk about the Family Adventures series at the NAC. I was lucky enough to be given four tickets to see a Saturday performance of The Listener.

In The Listener, conductor Boris Brott is busy trying to conduct his orchestra (while teaching the audience about music), but is constantly being interrupted by the antics of a clownish mime or two.

For those who find it hard to sit back and still their minds in order to enjoy the music this premise gives the right amount of distraction which somehow makes it easier to stay focused on the scene. Adding a comedic element to a beautiful score really works.

But I’m skipping ahead. The Family Adventures series includes some fun kid-friendly pre-show activities I can appreciate as a parent, which also add extra value to the whole experience. About half the activities were for kids younger than our own i.e. colouring, playing with percussion instruments (at which Mark exclaimed “Boy am I glad I’m not hung over!”).

There was also a “petting zoo” of stringed instruments. The girls really enjoyed this part:

Sarah tries out a violin at the NAC

Suddenly I found myself wondering if I could find a 2-for-1 deal on cellos.

Emma on cello at the NAC

Boris Brott himself circulated and signed autographs. I am sad I missed that photo op! He’s great.

There was music to listen to as well. Groups of young children gave mini-concerts. I think it was inspiring for our own relatively non-musical children to (a) try out the instruments and see how difficult they are to play followed by (b) watching kids their age play some tunes and then (c) hear the orchestra play them REALLY WELL. These kinds of hands-on activities really put it into perspective.

That’s personally why I enjoy the NAC orchestra. To see and listen to people create something so beautiful out of mere wood and air and string and brass is nothing short of magical.

The NAC is a fun place to people watch. I love how dressed-up some of the little kids were. There had been some obvious spit and polish going on beforehand, which was pretty sweet.

We found our seats early. We were in V-row, closer to the back than to the front, but we were able to see just fine.

getting our seats at the NAC Family Adventures

The NAC has booster seats but they’re in very limited quantity. If you want one you have to be quick about nabbing it.

Before we knew it it was time for the show to begin.

For some people (including one dad we chatted with) it’s their first time at the NAC – ever. I think this is as good an introduction as any. It was a good show for families, with the right balance of education and entertainment. Boris Brott is a very approachable personality and he is real bright spot.

But the question remains: can kids sit still? It’s hard to say. It’s an hour long, a perfect length of time in my view. The girls were easily able stay focused. And they loved it. But not every kid is able to pay attention for that long. Some kids have never learned to wait, or sit still, or how to be quiet. You have to know your kid, and whether if he/she is the type who will (a) enjoy themselves and (b) get something out of a program such as this one. But I like to think that everyone can.

I had a little guy sitting next to me who was five and a half years old. (I asked.) He REALLY enjoyed the show, really and truly. He asked lots of questions before the show started and was fairly quiet during the rest. But I had to laugh. Oh how he giggled and laughed at all the funny parts – his voice ringing out over the heads of everyone on our side of the auditorium. It was lovely to see how much he enjoyed himself.  He was totally mesmerized by the whole production.

We also saw the opposite: two young girls in front of us (about the same age, maybe a shade older) who could not sit still throughout the entire performance. Wow. The mother occasionally shushed them (and plied them with granola bars), whereas the father totally ignored them. In fact, at first I wasn’t able to figure out if he was even part of the the family.

It reminded me of the time we brought Sarah (who was four at the time)  to a similar kind of show at the NAC. Sarah is one of those squirmy kids. She’s been squirmy since THE DAY SHE WAS BORN. She couldn’t keep still. At one point she may or may not have been lying on my feet. I can safely report that the floor of the NAC is not nearly as sticky as that of a movie theatre. But I was mortified. I fed her stale licorice out of the bottom of my purse so she’d have something to keep her occupied. So I totally understand that some kids cannot sit still for anything, no matter how entertaining.

The Family Adventures shows are very family-friendly, and I think fellow audience members are sympathetic if you find you need to remove yourself partway through the performance, but I also think that this is a great teaching opportunity for young families and we need to embrace it as such. Kids need to be shown how to behave. i.e. We need to be quiet. We’re not supposed to chat. We can’t eat or drink. And this is the way It Shall Be.

It’s an education, and kids need to learn how to behave in a movie theatre, in an art gallery, in a nice restaurant. You have to start somewhere, right? 

Anyway, I do recommend the family programming at the NAC. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything we’ve seen there, and I think many other people will too.

The next show in the Family Adventure series is called Sports Fever. Snap up a ticket while you still can! (ETA: check out the website for information about the other shows.)

I know a lot of you are NAC members, past and present. If you have anything to add about taking kids to these kind of events I would love to hear it!

12 Responses to "Family Adventures at the NAC"

1 | Soire

November 22nd, 2009 at 9:57 pm


I was the one in 25F with the flailing baby (Who was escorted out by his da just before the last number) and the little girls who loved Beauty & the Beast but reminded me “They played that last time mama….”

*sigh* It was good :D

2 | Erica

November 22nd, 2009 at 10:08 pm


My father took me to the symphony when I was about 7. I had just started taking violin lessons, and I thought it was the neatest thing EVER to see real musicians play. I was particularly fascinated by the conductor, and I remember sitting in my seat (in the balcony) waving my arms around, trying to learn the movements of conducting. A woman seated behind us grabbed me by the shoulder and yelled at me to sit still. My mood instantly went from elated to mortified.

I agree that proper audience behaviour must be modeled and learned (my dad thought my arm-waving was cute and harmless, apparently), and I’m very happy to hear that the NAC has family-oriented programming where kids can experience live music in a non-threatening environment. I really, really hope that the adult audience members will be kind and encouraging to any young music enthusiasts!

3 | Joy

November 23rd, 2009 at 8:28 am


I thought there are three more shows? We missed this weekends, but hope to go to the next three. How is parking? The only thing i dislike is getting downtown and parking – i am such a wimp.

4 | andrea

November 23rd, 2009 at 9:00 am


Joy: WHOOPS. I meant to write that the NEXT show is Sports fever. I’ve corrected my post and added a link to a description of all the show.

Parking is a no-brainer, in fact, it’s ideal for families with little kids. There is heated underground parking at the NAC. Leave your coats in the car and stroll up into the theatre.

5 | Chrisitine

November 23rd, 2009 at 9:08 am


Hi Andrea,
My family won the tickets in your blog!(thanks again).Just wanted you to know it was a really fun outing for my family.My 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter LOVED it.The concert was the perfect length of time and the mimes kept everyones attention.Lots of fun and laughter!We will definitely be attending futher NAC family events.

6 | andrea

November 23rd, 2009 at 9:23 am


Hi Christine,
I’m so glad to hear your family had a good time. Thanks for letting me know!

7 | Chantal

November 23rd, 2009 at 9:31 am


The NAC is a sponsor!! HOW COOL IS THAT! YAY you!

My sister attended that show with her two kids and loved it. I really need to get my act in gear and take my boys to see more cultured things than the Backyardigans and Disneys playhouse ;)

8 | CarrieLou

November 23rd, 2009 at 2:19 pm


Hi all! My 5yr old son and I attended the last series of these concerts earlier this year and they were fantastic. I was really looking forward to start going again, but my son insisted he did NOT want to go to these concerts anymore. :( I was a wee bit heartbroken because I thought he really enjoyed them. He said that maybe we can go to the next series. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there the next time around…..

9 | Jennifer

November 23rd, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Great post Andrea and I’m so glad everyone enjoyed the show. The Tunetown activities are definitely a highlight of these concerts.
Having seen lots of shows at the NAC over the years of working here I have always loved to see the hall filled with young people and families and to see the room positiviely buzzing with that energy! it’s so much fun!

10 | Joanne from Orleans

November 23rd, 2009 at 8:47 pm


We were at the show yesterday. My kids loved it! We were sitting in the loges up on the side… so they were a bit scared that they would fall. Once the music started and the mimes came out they were mezmerized by it all. My son (4) conducted along with the conductor and giggled at the mime. My daughter (7) just sat and took it all in.

We have been subscribers of the family programming at the NAC for a few years now – normally the french family theatre but this year we wanted to try something different and we were not disappointed! We missed the Tunetown activities and will try to get a family shot with Boris Brott next time!

11 | Mom on the Go

November 25th, 2009 at 9:23 am


We subscribed to Family Adventures last year and signed up again this year, too. We also got the rarer Kinderconcerts tickets. Kinderconcerts are good for kids as young as 3 or 4, probably up to 10. The kids sit on the floor and the adults get chairs, unless their kid needs them on the floor. Your girls might find it too young but other readers of the Fishbowl might find them an easier intro to music performances for little people.

Congrats on the NAC as sponsor, btw.

12 | Giveaway alert: tickets to TD Canada Trust Family Adventures at the NAC >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 15th, 2010 at 3:49 pm


[…] written about the TD Canada Trust Family Adventures series at the NAC before. To summarize: it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some excellent family time AND experience […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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