Published on LA.Streetsblog on October 13, 2009
A few years ago when I was part of a theater production on Santa Monica Blvd. we worked hard to fill the seats and we advertised, we passed out flyers, we called the press, we sent out notices and we invited our friends and family, hoping to fill the house. Through it all we were always struggling with the fact that the streets are congested, traffic is miserable, parking is limited and our audience invariably showed up pissed off and frazzled by their journey, making for tough audiences!
Somewhere along the way I realized that we were going about it all wrong. Imagine if local theaters (there are over 100 in the Hollywood area alone) encouraged their audience members to walk, ride a bike or take the Metro. Imagine if local theaters promoted the local cafes, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants that surround them and encourage their audience to arrive early, stay late and spend lots of money in the local community. Imagine if local theaters encouraged their audience to come as a group, make an adventure out of the experience, make going to the theater a social experience rather than something you just Tweet about.
Inevitably, it always came back to parking. The Theaters promoted parking. They gave driving instructions. They promised secure parking. They promised valet parking. They promised parking validation. But as soon as the show ended, the cars had to go and there went the audience. No mingling, no socializing, no hanging out and spending lots of money in the neighborhood. They had to move that car to its next destination.
That was when I went on the warpath and started reaching out to the local community, starting with those who lived close enough to walk to the Theater. I was surprised to find that some of the neighbors didn’t know about their local theater, some had never really paid attention, and nobody had ever reached out to them. We made some great friends.
Since I was often riding my bike to the theater, I started paying more attention to how we could accommodate cyclists. It was bad! When I rode my bike, I had to park it on the street, locking it to a pole and praying throughout the performance that my bike would still be there. I looked for ways to provide safe bike parking and to promote that rather than driving instructions.
Sometimes I took the bus or train to the theater and my experience there was sometimes quite bad, getting out of a show late at night only to find that the bus had stopped running.
There are two things we can do to change the world. The first is provide information and the second is to have fun.
I started calling theater companies to post transit information and bike parking map instruction to their websites. Sacred Fools Theatre, within 30 minutes posted public transportation info and bikemetro.com on their directions page. They became one of my favorite theater companies, still to this day. Within a week I organized a bike ride to their theater and 10 people joined me for La Bete, a production that garnered them quite a few awards.
The second company was the Santa Monica Playhouse, who got out into the street and looked up the various buses that passed by their venue and posted their information as well as the bikemetro link. The Boston Court in Pasadena, the Lillian Theatre and The SkyPilot Theatre followed their lead and I liked them so much, I ended up joining the SkyPilot company.
Since then, I have posted several requests for bus and metro directions and bikemetro posting on theater industry group websites and I’ve also sent emails to various theater companies who I like to visit.
I also started a tradition of having more fun. Some of my favorite theater events are the ones that were social and where I could hang out with my friends long after the play was over. Our first M.A.D. ride (Metro ADventure) was via the Red Line Station and to this day it is one of my favorite LA Theater memories.
The bike rides with friends to Sacred Fools and to the SkyPilot Theatre I treasure dearly because not only did I get to introduce some new audience members to LA Theater but also because the social element is just as important to me as being exposed to performance art. And we together, on our bikes or via the Metro, explored a bit of the neighborhood, its restaurants and its charm, that we could have never done would we have driven our cars to the show.
Two things happen when we choose alternative modes of travel. We tend to be more relaxed, we are in no rush to pick up our car from the lot that might be closing or charging and we are more likely to go out to eat afterward at a local restaurant, to end the evening together with our friends.
Ask your theater company to post public transportation information on their website and find out if they can provide secure bike parking. Just having this information on the website could encourage people to try something new because they are given an option. Invite your neighbors to see your shows. If they walk down the street to your venue, the streets are going to be safer because of it. Let your customers know about local restaurants so they can stick around afther the show. The businesses will be thankful for it!
As for me, I’m planning the next bike ride to the show The End of Civilization, from Hollywood to Toluca Lake, on November 14th. If you’d like to join me, keep an eye out for the post on illuminatela.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.