Terrible reviews for Saroyan Theatre opening night: $20 parking and lackluster Covid safety protocols
I turned into the Fresno Convention Center garage, lowered my window and handed the parking attendant a $20 bill. She said, “That’ll be 20 dollars.”
I didn’t get any change. I was stunned.
Yes, the price to park in the garage has increased a whopping 100% since the pandemic felled the cultural scene. I learned this on the spot last night at the opening performance of “CATS,” the first production of the 2021-22 Broadway in Fresno season. Be warned.
It’s outrageous. Soaking Fresnans (and others) by doubling the price of parking is a brazen and pessimistic move. I don’t care what kind of hole the city’s parking authority finds itself in after not being able to host any convention-center events for 18 months. The city also received vast sums of money from the federal government to keep itself afloat during the pandemic. We, the taxpayers, provided that money. We shouldn’t have to cough up for a jaw-dropping price increase for parking, too, to try to fill in some bureaucrat’s budget line. And with no viable alternatives for taking mass transit to attend downtown cultural events in this car-obsessed city, we’re stuck with driving.
Some might counter with the fact that parking is expensive in major metropolitan areas — San Francisco, say. But that ignores the reality of parking in San Francisco (where it’s hard to find at any time) and in downtown Fresno at night. The convention center garage is conveniently adjacent to the theater, yes. But if you raise the price of parking too much, many people will start taking advantage of the hundreds of free parking spaces within a few blocks of the convention center. Not everyone will, of course. But if a significant minority decide to park for free and walk, then any increase in overall revenues due to the increased fees will take an overall hit.
Also annoying: I didn’t see any signs announcing the parking price increase prior to me pulling into the actual garage. (I was driving by myself, so I could have missed them, but nothing jumped out at me.) That’s like charging a different price at the cash register than what’s marked on the shelf.
For this, the convention center gets a terrible opening-night review.
And that’s even before we get to the theater.
The convention center staff also failed miserably at Covid safety.
Violation No. 1: All ticket holders were informed they would need to present proof of vaccination to enter the building. While in line, an employee did take an extremely cursory look at a digital image of my vaccination record on my iPhone. But he did not ask for proof of identification, nor did he stop to look long enough to make sure that I 1) was fully vaccinated with both shots; and 2) had those shots long enough ago for the vaccine to take full effect.
What they’re doing on Broadway: You’re required to show your vaccination card (or a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours) and a photo ID before you’re allowed to enter the theater. The workers cross-reference the names and double-check vaccination dates. You don’t follow the rules? You don’t get in.
Violation No 2: There was no enforcement inside whatsoever of the Saroyan’s required mask policy. (The rule states: “All guests who are age 2 and over are required to wear suitable face coverings consistent with CDC guidance [completely covering the nose and mouth and be secured under the chin] while inside at venue, except while actively eating or drinking in designated areas.”) There wasn’t even an announcement before the show reminding people of it.
I never saw a Saroyan usher ask a patron to put on a mask. I never saw any ushers monitoring the audience in any way, in fact. And there were plenty of people to monitor. I’d say that more than half the audience members in my section went maskless the entire time. During intermission, people gathered together gabbing and hugging, chortling and aspirating, all cheerfully maskless.
Want to know what they’re doing on Broadway? Every single person in the audience has to wear a mask. During a performance, ushers ask people to mask up, with flashlights aimed at the offenders. It’s strict.
The vaccination rate for Fresno County is about 61% fully vaccinated. How many unvaccinated maskless people were among the probably 1,500 or so packed into the Saroyan for “CATS”? I’m guessing quite a few.
And for this, I’m giving the convention center its second terrible opening-night review. Overall, it’s a double embarrassment for Fresno.
(I’ll be posting a quick review of the actual “CATS” production in a few hours.)