This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org, a media partner of NEXTpittsburgh. Sign up here for Kidsburgh’s free newsletter filled with local resources and expert advice on raising healthy, thriving kids in southwestern PA.
On a recent Tuesday night, Nevins Taylor leaned forward in his seat at the Benedum Center. Dancers were soaring across the stage, belting out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s powerful lyrics during a production of the award-winning musical “Hamilton.”
Nevins had arrived a half-hour earlier with his mother, Remake Learning Days producer Dorie Taylor, and politely greeted her friends when the group got seated. But like many teenagers, he didn’t seem especially excited about spending a few hours in a theater with a group of parents.
And yet, after just a few songs, he was all in — watching and listening intently. That’s the power of live theater.
Nevins, an 8th-grader at Environmental Charter School, was fully immersed in a live-action history lesson. He was out in the community on a weeknight sharing in a public event. And he was having this educational and cultural experience alongside his mom.
“It was exciting during the part of the pandemic for arts organizations to pivot and go virtual and figure out the best way to share the arts,” Dorie Taylor says. “But being at a live event is phenomenal. And certainly, it’s a treat. It’s a fun outing as a family.”
After two years of pandemic living, Pittsburghers may not be in the habit of buying theater tickets or going Downtown for large-group events. Also, budgets are tight for many people. An evening or weekend day Downtown can be expensive.
In an effort to make theater-going easier, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has launched two initiatives.
SMOOTH ARRIVALS AND DISCOUNTED DINNERS
One is pre-show check-in: This service invites people to visit the Theater Square Box Office as early as two and a half hours before curtain time to show their Covid vaccine cards and ID, and receive a paper bracelet confirming their vaccine status. The box office is indoors and the process moves swiftly.
Later, when the family arrives at the theater, they can show their bracelets to use an express line to enter the theater.
Ann Craig, a Hampton mother of three, recently used the pre-show check-in process when she went to see “Hamilton” with a friend. “It was so easy. We walked in, we showed our cards and now we have our bracelets. It’s all done,” she said. “The idea of showing up, especially with kids, 10 minutes before a show is about to start and having to show your vaccine cards then would be stressful. This takes that extra bit of stress out of it.”
The pre-check system was tested in late December during performances of “The Nutcracker” ballet, says the Trust’s director of guest experience, Ashley Rieser.
Checking vaccine cards is a valuable way to ensure that theater-goers are protected from Covid-19, but Rieser says it’s also “where the delay has been in getting patrons into the theater.”
With this plan in mind, “we looked for a location that would allow us to have patrons inside when they were going through that process, rather than waiting outside in the cold or the rain,” she says.
“That’s why we came up with the idea of having pre-check at our Theater Square box office because it’s such a wide-open space and allows the opportunity for us to be able to greet our patrons and get them through.”
Once pre-check is done, the Trust’s other new program kicks in: It’s a series of partnerships with Downtown restaurants to offer discounts to people who have used the pre-check service.
“We wanted to be able to find a way to enhance the guest experience again, by partnering with those local businesses and engaging them in this concept of bringing our patrons into the theater earlier,” Rieser says, “so they could find the place to park, they could check in very quickly and smoothly, and then they could go and enjoy the district itself.”
Discounts range from 15% off at restaurants including Sienna Mercato and The Market Exchange to 10% off at täkō or 5% off at Nicky’s Thai Kitchen.
This new program is already growing: “We now have more than 10 restaurant partners in the Cultural District offering discounts to patrons who use this pre-check function,” says Robin Elrod, the Trust’s director of communications.
As the spring weather arrives and hopefully Covid continues to subside, more people will be thinking about experiencing live performances. The team at the Trust hopes many will choose to make an entire day of the experience.
“For some of them, this may be their first experience Downtown in the Cultural District and we really want that to be as fulfilling as possible,” Rieser says. “To see the young children’s eyes when they come to the theater, and they’re all dressed up in their fancy little outfits … It’s just a wonder to see.”