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Pittsburgh is a Theater Town! Top Places to Go to the Theater with Kids

by Janet Jonus photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

You have heard it before, Pittsburgh is a Theater town!

Okay, the saying usually is “Pittsburgh is a sports town” but there are more theater events for more age levels in Pittsburgh than professional sports teams. Pittsburgh is teaming (pun intended) with Theater for the whole families from toddlers to teens.


“Theater engages the senses, “according to Pam Komar, Executive Director of Children’s Theater Programming. “It presents something new. It challenges us to think. It transports us away from the chaos of life.”

Through the theater, we discover new worlds. We explore new times. We meet new friends. Theater inspires. It lifts us up. This is especially true of children’s theater which is created just for families and children.

A night at the theater brings the family together. “Theater is an … experience for the whole family,” says Paul Siefken, CEO of Fred Rogers productions. Billy Aronson, the creator of Peg + Cat, agrees, “Theater is a shared experience.”

“Everyone takes something different away,” Caren Hearne, founder of Mariposa Theater says. “Theater opens our eyes to everything outside of us.”

Is your child ready for a theater experience? Age and context are important factors. Many of the theater productions in this article are designed for kids as young as 3 (during the EQT Children’s Festival there are plays for kids as young as 6 months.) Age appropriate shows know your child won’t be able to sit still in silence. They expect children to be restless, and the shows are designed for children’s needs. Many shows involve the audience in the action. Many shows encourage children to get up and sing along with the actors. Shows are shorter for those short attention spans. Consider your child’s abilities. An interactive musical designed for children is very different from a Broadway musical in a large theater. If your child can not sit quietly through Hamilton, it is best not to take them to that show. When planning your theater expedition, look for the following:

  • Choose a Children’s Theater like Gemini Theater or Mariposa Theater.
  • Choose a Children’s show like the Family Matinees at Little Lake Theater or the Citizens Bank Children’s Theater Series or the EQT Bridge Theater Series from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
  • Check with the Theater for recommended ages. Most theaters have suggested ages for each production.
  • Choose a smaller theater. The Benedum and Heinz Hall are large theaters. While access is easy, the rows of seats are quite long. If you have to leave, you will need to walk over dozens of feet to get out. Not exactly the best theater experience for anyone involved.
  • Sit in the balcony or in the back of the theater so you have easier access to exits. Try to choose an aisle seat for the same reason.
  • Prepare to have to leave if your child is overwhelmed by the theater experience. If your child is acting out and affecting the enjoyment of the rest of the theater, or even those sitting near you, it is best to take a break. Most theaters have an area where you can take a break from the show. (FamilyFunPittsburgh had to leave our share of productions in years past!)

Another benefit of children’s theater is the cost. Shows are priced for FamilyFun. Tickets to the big shows in the city can run $50 per ticket and up. Children’s shows are priced for families, usually around $10 per ticket.

Luckily for Pittsburgh, there are many opportunities for families to catch a performance. From touring Broadway shows to intimate local theaters, there is show for everyone. Here are the Top Seven FamilyFun Theater experiences in Pittsburgh.

North

Mariposa Theater for Young Audiences has shows for children as young as 3. Mariposa Theater specializes in shows for young audiences. The theater is set up specifically for their young audiences. The theater seats fifty-five people. There are carpet squares set up right in front of the stage so the younger members of the audience can be within feet of the actors.

Caren Hearne, the founder of Mariposa Theater, explains, “We are a small, intimate theater. For most shows, the kids may be too shy to come up near the stage but by ten minutes in, they are out of their seats and sitting on the carpet squares. That is what we want. We want everyone to be drawn into the magic of the theater.”

The plays for most of the season are for kids three and up, but every season features at least one production for tweens and teens. The season runs from February through December with a new show every two months. Most shows run for four to five weeks.

The current season started on February 3rd with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie which runs through March 9th. Aladdin’s Luck, based on the familiar story of Aladdin, opens on April 6th and runs through May 11th. An as-yet-to-be-announced show will run from June 8th through July 20th. The Imaginators runs September 7th through October 12th. Don’t Count your Chickens Until They Cry Wolf opens on October 25th and runs through November 23rd. The season closes out with Mariposa favorite home December 7th through December 28th.

Shows are on Saturdays at 1000AM and 100PM. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children under twelve.

In addition their children’s theater, Mariposa also hosts Fairytale Princess and Themed parties every month. Children can meet their favorite Princess with a different princess at each event. Parties include interaction with the princess, story time, crafts, and activities. Each event lasts two hours. Tickets are $25 per child with one adult getting in for free with each child’s ticket. Kids are welcome to dress up in costume. The events are held on Sundays at 100PM once a month.

This year’s events start on April 28th with an Alice in Wonderland Tea Party. Paint with Rapunzel on Saturday May 18th at 1100Am and Sunday May 19th at 100PM. Join mermaids and pirates for an Ocean Beach Party on June 28th. Calling all Superheroes for a Celebrate Independence with Captain America party on July 14th. Dance with Teen Villains at a Spellbound Party on September 22nd. October brings several holiday-themed events. There are two Villains Halloween Parties, one on October 26th at 1100AM and another on October 27th at 100PM. Calling all wizards for a Wizard School event on November 3rd.

Mariposa also has a masterclass for kids 10-18. Join the cast of Come Away Home for a Broadway Kids Auditions Masterclass. Learn how to prepare for an audition and get feedback from a cast member. Pre-registration is required. Registration is limited to 10 participants and 25 observers. Tickets are $75 for participants and $50 for observers.

Mariposa also has a Cabaret Series for adults. More details can be found on their website.

Mariposa Theater for Young Audiences is located in Bellevue at 527 Lincoln Ave Pittsburgh PA 15202 / 412-419-1835 / http://www.mariposatheatre.org/home.html

South

Little Lake Theater has announced their 71st Season for 2019. The season starts in early spring and goes through the fall. Located off Route 19 South near Peters Township, Little Lake is a community theater with a lot to offer. Little Lake is a theater in the round, with the audience surrounding the central stage. There is not a bad seat in the house

Little Lake’s Looking Glass Theater features plays for preschoolers, kids, and tweens. Looking Glass Theater productions are in the summer with performances on Wednesdays at 1100AM and Fridays and Saturdays at 200PM. Tickets are just $10 a person with a 3-pack discount for all three Looking Glass Theater shows for $27 per person. This year’s Looking Glass line-up has The Lion King, Jr. June 19th through July 6th. This family-friendly musical tells the story of Simba, the Lion destined to be King. Next up is Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook which runs from July 10th through the 27th. Kindergartener Junie B. Jones learns the lesson that “finders keepers” doesn’t always apply. The Looking Glass season closes out with Winnie the Pooh which runs from July 31st through August 17th. Piglet is in trouble, can Pooh rescue him?

Little Lake also has Fall Family Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 200PM. Fall Family Matinees are shows for the entire family. First up is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Travel to Narnia with the Pevensie children. Join the cast and crew for a workshop before the show. Make props that will be used during the play and be part of the action too! The play runs from September 21st through October 20th. Tickets are $12 for children 15 and under and $14 for adults for the play only. The play and workshop combo tickets are $17 for children 15 and under and $19 for adults. Celebrate Christmas with Elf Jr. The Musical. Buddy the human elf travels to New York to find his family. This family favorite runs from November 23rd through December 15th. Tickets are $12 for children and $14 for adults.

Their Main Stage productions are a blend of contemporary and classic theater appropriate for tweens and teens. Parents should review each play for content and age recommendations. The season opens with The Drowsy Chaperone April 25th through May 11th (ages 8+). Top Girls runs from May 16th through June 1st. This play contains mature language and is recommended for ages 15+. The Importance of Being Earnest plays from June 6th through the 22nd (ages 8+). Electra premiers June 27th and runs through July 13th. This play is recommended for ages 12+. Boeing Boeing runs July 18th through August 3rd. There are some mature themes. (Recommended for ages 13+) Cabaret comes to Little Lake August 8th through the 24th (ages 13+). A Comedy of Tenors runs September 5th through September 21st (ages 13+). Bloomsday plays the Theater September 26th through October 12th (ages 12+). Blithe Spirit opens on October 17th and runs through November 2nd (ages 10+). Over the Tavern plays November 7th through November 23rd (ages 10+). The season closes out with The Christmas Lake Effect November 29th through December 14th for ages 12+. Tickets for each play are $12 for children under 15 and $19 for adults on Thursday and Sunday shows and $20.50 for Friday and Saturday shows. Little Lake also has subscription plans for multiple shows.  Showtimes on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings are 800PM. Sundays Matinees are at 200PM.

Little Lake Theater has Sensory Friendly Performances throughout the season. This article will be updated when performances for the year are listed.

Little Lake Theater is located at 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg PA 15317 / 724-745-6300 / https://www.littlelake.org/

West

Gemini Children’s Theater is an interactive theater for children based at the Ryan Arts and Cultural Center in McKees Rocks PA. The theater presents family-friendly shows throughout the year. The theater has traditional stadium-style seating but there are only ten rows, so everyone is part of the action. Shows are for all ages. Kids 2 and under are free but must be seated on a parent’s lap. Tickets to all shows are $12 per person. Performances are on Saturdays and Sundays at 100PM and 330PM.

Charlotte’s Web is the next show at Gemini Theater. Based on classic book by EB White, it tells the story of Charlotte, a spider, and her friend Wilbur the Pig. The show runs from March 2nd through March 10th.

The Gemini-inspired, interactive version of Sleeping Beauty runs from April 6th through April 20th. The beautiful Princess Aurora is cursed by a spell. Can you help save her?

Gemini Theater is located at 420 Chartiers Avenue, McKees Rocks PA 15136 / 412-243-6464 / https://geminitheater.org/

City

The Prime Stage Theatre on Pittsburgh’s North Shore features classic plays for older kids, tweens, and teens. The Prime Stage Season runs from November through May with three productions every season. Prime Stage also has a Creative Arts Festival in May featuring works inspired by the Prime Stage plays. The Festival is open to High School students with entries in plays, short stories, poems, and visual arts.

Prime Stage closes out their 2018-2019 season with Twelfth Night from May 3rd through May 10th. There are special needs performances for visually impaired, hearing impaired, and individuals on the autism spectrum and with sensory-processing disorder. Tickets are $5-30.

The 2019 Season opens with The Scarlet Letter November 1-10. 2020 brings The Outsiders March 6-15 and Body of Light May 8-20.
For more information:
https://primestage.com/

The Citizens Bank Children’s Theater Series is a special theater series for kids three and older. The series starts in the fall and runs through the winter. The last show is presented in May during the EQT Children’s Theater Festival.

The series features highly-interactive plays and musicals with an abundance of action and color. Shows are chosen to appeal to preschoolers and kids and their families. Shows run around 50-60 minutes with no intermission.

The Children’s Theater Series usually has their shows at the Byham Downtown but then the shows go on a mini-tour to local schools in the area to make them even more accessible to families. (The show during the EQT Children’s Theater Festival is at the August Wilson Center.)

The Byham is a nice introductory “real” theater for kids. It has beautiful architecture but it is smaller than the Benedum or Heinz Hall.  The small size allows everyone to feel a part of the show and allows even the smaller guests a good sightline to the stage.

Tickets to individual shows of the Citizens Bank Children’s Theater Series are $12 per person. All children over the age of 2 must have their own ticket. Children younger than two are free if they sit on a parent’s lap. There are also season ticket passes available. If you become a Children’s Theater Member at the $100 level or above you also get exclusive benefits including meet and greets and priority seating.

The Season is half over but there are still upcoming shows. Rosie Revere the Engineer runs from March 31st through April 7th. Emily Brown and the Thing plays during the EQT Children’s Theater Festival May 16th through May 19th at the August Wilson Center.

For more information, check here: https://trustarts.org/pct_home/events/series/childrens-theater-seriesT

The EQT Bridge Theater Series is for children seven and older. The series contains challenging, entertaining shows often with multi-media elements. The shows usually include physicality – acrobatics, parkour, or mind-bending illusions.

The series starts in the fall and runs through the EQT Children’s Theater Festival in May. The shows are usually at The Byham and the Trust Arts Education Center. Shows typically run 45-60 minutes without an intermission. Since many of the shows involve visual projections, some younger kids may find them a bit intense. Bridge Series Shows are recommended for kids 7+.

The 2018-2019 is almost over but there are two upcoming plays. LEO is a gravity-defying show for kids and adults. It is at the Byham March 29th and March 30th. Tickets are $12. The season closes out with Murikamification at the EQT Children’s Theater Festival. This non-traditional show takes place in secret locations throughout the Festival. (Audience members will be told where to show up prior to the show. There is no late seating.) Inspired by the works of Haruki Murakami, the Japanese surrealist writer, Murikamification defies classification. (FamilyFunPittsburgh is looking forward to this performance!)  There are shows daily from May 16th through May 19th.

Tickets are $12 per person. Children under three are not admitted. Everyone must have a ticket. Children under twelve must be seated next to an accompanying adult. There are season ticket options. Children’s Theater Member at the $100 level or above get exclusive benefits including meet and greets and priority seating.

For more information about the EQT Bridge Series can be found here: https://trustarts.org/pct_home/events/series/bridge-theater-series

EQT Children’s Theater Festival is a four-day celebration of the Arts for Kids. This year’s Festival is May 16th through May 19th. The Festival highlights featured performances from around the world plus over 40 local artists and child-friendly businesses with activities for all ages.

The Festival is held in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District – the area along Liberty and Penn Avenues from 6th through 10th Streets. There are numerous tents with vendors providing FREE activities for children of all ages. Previous Festivals had art projects, building projects, athletic activities, and more. The Frog Stop is a Festival-wide Scavenger Hunt. Many of the Cultural District’s art galleries are open with family-friendly exhibits. The Harris Theater is open with free popcorn. This year’s Festival features a world premiere art installation called circle circle circle. Walk through a maze of hula hoops in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of colors.

Featured performances are held at the Byham, the Trust Arts Education Center, and the August Wilson Center plus one performance to be held in a “secret location”. Featured performances require a ticket. Each show costs $12 per person with multiple-ticket packages available. Other paid activities include face painting and a balloon artist. Food trucks park along 7th Street plus there are many restaurants in the Cultural District. This year’s Featured Performances are:

  • Fly – A playful puppet show for children 5+, Thursday May 16th through Sunday May 19th at the Trust Arts Education Center
  • Emily Brown and the Thing – Something is keeping Emily Brown awake in this show for children 3+, Thursday May 16th through Sunday May 19th at the August Wilson Center
  • Murikamification – Enter the surreal world of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami with a unique performance from Arch 8, for ages 7+, Thursday May 16th through Sunday May 19th somewhere in the Cultural District
  • Sky and Stone – A stone falls from the sky and starts an exploration of movement in this interactive play for babies and toddlers from 6 months through 4 years old, Thursdays May 16th through Sunday May 19th at the Trust Arts Education Center
  • Air Play – Explore air and wind in a circus-like show for all ages, Friday May 17th through Sunday May 19th at the Byham Theater – The Saturday May 18th 130PM performance is a Sensory-Friendly show with special accommodations for individuals on the autism spectrum or with sensory processing disorder.
  • Sons of Mystro – Two violinists, one exciting show! For all ages, Friday May 17th through Sunday May 19th at the August Wilson Center

The Festival is a FamilyFunFavorite event. We highly recommend this event for Pittsburgh families. Look for the FamilyFunPittsburgh Know Before You Go Guide plus a Featured Article coming soon.

For more information and to buy tickets for Featured Events, check here: https://pghkids.trustarts.org/

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has theater productions for older kids, tweens, and teens with an occasional show for younger kids. The Cohen & Grigsby Trust brings a combination of unique shows including comedy, live music, and touring shows from famous artists. An upcoming show for FamilyFun is The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show on March 16th at 1100AM and 230PM. Based on the book by Eric Carle, this popular puppet show is aimed at children 2-7 years old but is fun for the whole family. The show is at the Byham. Tickets are on sale and cost $20-35. Tweens and teens and fans of Dancing with The Stars will want to see Derek Hough: Live! on Wednesday April 17th at 730PM. Catch Derek’s first ever solo tour at the Benedum. Tickets are $59.50 to 800 for a VIP experience.

PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, also from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, brings current and classic Broadway shows to Pittsburgh. The season is half over but upcoming shows include The Phantom of the Opera at the Benedum through March 3rd. The show is 2 hours and 25 minutes long and best for tweens and teens. Tickets cost $55 through $165. For more shows and information, check here: https://trustarts.org/

There are many other opportunities for entertainment and FamilyFun in Pittsburgh. Look for our article on music and dance coming soon!