We’ve all heard someone say something like “Art brings people together.”
It sounds noble and altruistic, yet it’s vague. I too believe art brings people together, and I’d like to share a specific, intimate story about a recent art experience my daughter and I shared.
I have always appreciated art and culture, although I don’t consider myself a “culturephile.” I’m a typical 40-something dad, software engineer, and man-about-town – if “man-about-town” means driving kids from place to place throughout the week. As an employee of Tessitura, I at least consider myself culture-adjacent, taking in shows and enjoying museums as the opportunity presents itself. As such, I had a passing familiarity with the Broadway hit Avenue Q, described as:
“Part flesh, part felt and packed with heart… the laugh-out-loud musical that tells the timeless story of a bright-eyed college grad named Princeton.”
This benign description belies that the critically-acclaimed Avenue Q, portrayed by actors sharing the stage with puppets, is infamous for being a bawdy show. When I saw that Avenue Q was coming to my local performing arts center, I was intrigued. Did I dare take my daughter?
You see, I am the father of a 13-year-old young woman, Chloe. “I’m nearly 14,” she is quick to tell me. If you have teens, or remember being a teenager, you won’t be surprised to learn that it can be tricky for us to connect over shared interests.
As her father, my interests tend toward her safety, a clean room, and monitoring phone usage. Her interests are, broadly speaking, in opposition to mine. I’m always on the lookout for interesting activities that allow us to spend time together, and one thing we have in common is that we both enjoy concerts and shows.
Avenue Q seemed like a fun opportunity. Chloe has a great sense of humor and relishes dressing up for a night on the town. When I pitched the idea, I was optimistic but also prepared for her immediate contrarian dismissal. To my surprise, after watching the show’s trailer, she amiably agreed!
“I love those songs!” she told me.
“What? Where have you heard those songs?” Avenue Q’s playlist was new to me.
“Pandora,” she said, with omnipresent headphones around her neck.
Unbeknownst to me, Chloe had been listening to the Broadway Showtunes station on Pandora, where Avenue Q hits like "It Sucks to Be Me “ and “Everyone's a Little Bit Racist” are staples. What a pleasant surprise! I was learning new things about my daughter already.
The evening of the show, we both enjoyed the ritual of dressing up. I wore a blazer (a rarity) and she borrowed a dress and heels from her mom. We went out for dinner and talked about the other Broadway musicals she enjoys. I learned that she loves big comedies with strong female leads like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, and her favorite, Wicked. Who knew that a portion of her copious headphone time was spent listening to Sondheim or Schwartz?
When we arrived at the show, we discovered that the performance was in a small, intimate theatre. What a treat! We could practically reach out and touch the actors.
Looking across the audience, I felt a touch of self-consciousness. I had assumed that the audience would be full of teens, but Chloe appeared to be the youngest person in the audience. Had I made a colossal parental blunder? Then a couple of college-age girls commented to Chloe, “You’re so lucky your dad brought you to the show!” She gave me a thankful hug, and my self-consciousness subsided.
During the performance, we shared spontaneous belly laughs and quizzical looks as the raucous plot unfolded. We even exchanged a side-eye smirk as the drunken puppets became amorous, then more….
When the show ended, we had plenty to talk about as we made our way home — diversity, individual purpose, same-sex attraction, even the idiosyncrasies of puppet sex.
I’m fortunate to have shared this evening with my daughter. Art did indeed bring us together. We hugged, laughed and blushed. We discovered that we share an appreciation for performing arts, especially if it includes ridiculous humor. I was reminded that she’s thoughtful, independent, and very goofy.
Our community of arts and culture professionals brings people together. Whether you’re a box office associate, fundraiser, membership manager, or report writer, never forget that your work enables special moments we’ll never forget. I encourage you all to take a moment to reflect on the joy and inspiration that you bring.
Andrew is on sabbatical. This is the fifth post in a series featuring guest writers from the Tessitura team.