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Benedum policy restricts youngest patrons' access to most shows

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By Alice T. Carter
Thursday, July 11, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Children under the age of 3 are not admitted to “Disney's The Little Mermaid” at the Benedum Center.

Chelsea Diebold knows that now.

But the Munhall resident wishes she had been aware of the policy before she and her 2 12-year-old daughter, Nola, arrived at the theater on opening night.

Diebold's daughter loves “The Little Mermaid,” knows all the songs and was in ecstasy over the prospect of seeing the musical.

But when they tried to enter the Benedum Center, they were stopped at the door.

“As I handed over the tickets, the woman at the door said ‘Uh, oh, we are going to have a problem here,'” Diebold says.

After being referred to the box office, she was told that Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's policy refuses admission to those younger than age 3.

“I was heartbroken,” Diebold says. “I had to give up the fight as my daughter was literally being tormented as the show started and she could hear her favorite songs and Ariel's voice over the speakers in the halls. My daughter was so incredibly disappointed about not seeing Ariel … She cried as we left.”

The age policy has been in effect for 20 years, says Cindy Opatick, associate producer for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

It's clearly stated in Benedum Center programs as well as in several places on the Civic Light Opera website.

Occasionally, a patron brings a child younger than 3 to a show. When that happens, the patron is offered a refund or tickets for another show. Diebold has not yet decided which option she will go with.

Most CLO seasons include a musical that will appeal to young audience members, Opatick says. “But the length or content may not be appropriate for children under 3.” Traditional musicals often run 2 12 hours, making them inappropriate for youngsters with shorter attention spans, Opatick adds.

“It's not like ‘Yo Gabba Gabba Live,'” Opatick says.

That 80-minute show, aimed at toddlers, had welcomed those younger than 3 when Diebold and her daughter saw it at the Benedum, which added to Diebold's puzzlement.

Why was she welcome at “Yo Gabba Gabba Live” and not at “Disney's The Little Mermaid”? she asks. It's a Disney show. People are going to bring young children.

Acceptable age levels for admittance vary on a show-by-show basis, according to show content, as well as the preferences of the presenting or producing organization, says Shaunda Miles, director of public relations for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which operates the Benedum Center.

Though the Civic Light Opera web page for “Disney's The Little Mermaid” clearly states that policy, Diebold swears it was not there when she visited the website before getting tickets.

“I checked the website before I even considered bringing my daughter Downtown … what if it was an inappropriate Off-Broadway version,” she says.

The day after the incident, Civic Light Opera posted an additional notice that those under age 3 will not be admitted; the notice was above the “buy tickets” button on the web page for “Disney's The Little Mermaid.”

Miles says the Trust intends to confer with Civic Light Opera to discuss whether this could have been handled better. “From what I understand, everyone did their best to accommodate (Diebold).”

“I was thrilled they did change it,” Diebold says. “But all those people who bought tickets before … don't go and check again. I'm sad for those kids who are going to be turned away. “

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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