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On a recent Tuesday night, Nevins Taylor leaned forward in his seat at the Benedum Center. Dancers soared onto the stage, belting out the powerful lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda during a production of the award-winning musical ‘Hamilton’.
Nevins had arrived half an hour earlier with his mother, Remake Learning Days producer Dorie Taylor, and politely greeted his friends as the group sat down. But like many teenagers, he didn’t seem particularly keen on spending a few hours at the theater with a group of parents.
And yet, after just a few songs, he was into it – watching and listening intently. This is the power of live theater.
Nevins, an 8th grader at Environmental Charter School, was completely immersed in a live history lesson. He was in the community on a weeknight to participate in a public event. And he lived this educational and cultural experience alongside his mother.
“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,” says Dorie Taylor. “But being at a live event is phenomenal. And certainly, it’s a treat. It’s a fun family outing.
After two years of pandemic life, Pittsburgh residents may not be used to buying theater tickets or heading downtown for large group events. Also, budgets are tight for many people. A night out or a weekend day downtown can be expensive.
In an effort to make theater 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 go to the Theater Square box office as early as two and a half hours before curtain time to show their vaccination card and Covid ID, and receive a paper wristband confirming their vaccination status . The box office is in and the process is going fast.
Later, when the family arrives at the theater, they can show their wristbands to use an express line to enter the theater.
Ann Craig, a mother of three in Hampton, recently used the pre-show check-in process when she went to see “Hamilton” with a friend. “It was so easy. We walked in, showed our cards, and now we have our bracelets. It’s all done,” she said. “The idea of showing up, especially with children, 10 minutes before the start of a show and having to show your vaccination cards then would be stressful. It takes that extra bit of stress away.
The pre-verification system was tested at the end of December during performances of the ballet “The Nutcracker”, explains the Trust’s director of customer experience, Ashley Rieser.
Checking vaccination cards is a valuable way to ensure theatergoers are protected from Covid-19, but Rieser says it’s also “where the delay has been in getting patrons into the theatre” .
With that plan in mind, “we looked for a place that would allow us to have customers inside while they were going through this process, rather than waiting outside in the cold or rain,” she says.
“That’s why we came up with the idea of having a pre-check at our Theater Square box office, because it’s such an open space and allows us to be able to welcome our customers and pass them through. “
Once the pre-verification has been completed, the Trust’s other new program comes into effect: it is 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 make the guest experience better again, by partnering with these local businesses and engaging them in this concept of getting our guests to the theater sooner,” says Rieser, “ so that they could find the place to park, they could check in very quickly and smoothly, then they could go and enjoy the area itself.”
Discounts range from 15% at restaurants, including Sienna Mercato and The Market Exchange, to 10% at täkō or 5% off at Nicky’s Thai Kitchen.
This new program is already gaining momentum: “We now have more than 10 partner restaurants in the Cultural Quarter that offer discounts to customers who use this pre-verification feature,” says Robin Elrod, director of communications for the Trust.
As the spring weather arrives and Covid hopefully continues to calm down, more and more people will be thinking about attending live shows. The Trust team hopes many will choose to make the experience a full day.
“For some of them, this may be their first downtown experience in the Cultural Quarter and we really want it to be as fulfilling as possible,” says Rieser. “To see the eyes of young children when they come to the theater, and they’re all dressed up in their fancy little outfits… It’s just a wonder to behold.”