Terrible reviews for Saroyan Theatre opening night: $20 parking and lackluster Covid safety protocols

The Munro Review

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.

Safety issues

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.)

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (17)

  • That’s so different from the Michael Buble concert at the Save Mart Center. Yes, parking was $20, but we had to show ID, our vaccination card, and received a wrist band with MB initials and the date. All staff were masked and the public was encouraged to have their masks on. The concert was great!

  • Jim Wilson

    I agree completely with you — especially the parking fee. Before leaving home, I checked my wallet to see if I had the six or seven dollars for the senior discount at the garage. I didn’t, so I put a $20 bill in my shirt pocked and drove downtown. As I pulled off Inyo into the garage entrance, I was stunned with the big $20 sign posted at the entrance. By then, another car was behind me so I couldn’t back out. When I got to the ticket taker, I asked if the Senior Discount was gone and she said yes. It was $20 for everybody. I shall now collect enough coins to use at a parking meter on the street next time. As expensive as those meters may be, they don’t equal the outrageous $20 garage fee.

  • Amy

    Thanks for the heads-up. I won’t be going to the Saroyan anytime soon.

  • Jackie Ryle

    Thank you, Donald. I continue to be surprised at the increasingly dismissive attitude and behavior toward the overall health of self and others. I encountered the same experience at a small organization gathering in tiny venue where fully half were unmasked and at least one unmasked I know to be unvaccinated. I chose not to enter. Nothing is worth the possibility of contracting and/or transmitting to a friend I visit regularly who is severely immunocompromised. Thanks for speaking out. It will be awhile before I return to Saroyan

  • Benjamin Boone

    Thank you for alerting everyone to this breech of trust. Shame on the Saroyan administration, I am in shock and hope the powers that be read this and take action. A sad sad state of affairs. An embarrassment, And Dangerous!!! Thank you for speaking out – it needs to be done!

  • Gerald Palladino & Chester Miszewicz

    Thank you, Donald. $20 garage parking is another ripoff from our uncaring City. I also agree that there was no enforcement of COVID protocols. I wore my mask throughout. I was especially wary because I refuse to believe the many unmasked audience members were fully vaccinated. Saroyan Theatre needs to get its act together. Chester and I fully appreciate your speaking out. WILL IT HELP?????

  • Jim Wilson

    Donald — this is from a former colleague who is retired and now lives in Reno:

    The Reno Philharmonic returned for its first full performance in over 18-months at the city’s premier theater venue, The Pioneer Theater, on Sunday. It was raining steadily as it had been all day.
    Doors to the theater had been planned to open a half-hour earlier than usual to accommodate all that followed:

    I ushered — front-door greeted, to be accurate. The Pioneer staff had first put up about a 12-square foot awning outside that almost connected to the front door so incoming patrons would have space and a time to fold up umbrellas, affix their masks and get vax proof documents ready for inspection once inside. Repeated signage had been placed strategically reminding theatergoers of masking; ticket holders had been advised of all mandates and restrictions in e-mails, texts and mailings in advance of their arrival at the theater.

    A local city-licensed security company officer — part of a regular security team at every performance — was checking IDs and vax cards carefully as patrons, once inside, lined up in the lobby, then moved down the line to get their tickets verified and counted. Masking was required as long as patrons were inside, including during the entire performance. Ushers who were seating patrons had been given fan-shaped cardboard signs reminding any patron who had not done so to put on a mask. There were no incidents of complaint; patrons, in fact, were high in their praise for the performance and, it can be assumed, the mechanics of the COVID mandates as they exited the theater following the performance.

    Parking is free after 5:00pm weekdays and all day weekends at a large county property lot across the street from the theater and at some curbside spaces.

    The same protocols will be in place for the rest of the season that officially opens next week with a 16-day run of “Hamilton” followed by five more road shows that includes “Cats.”


    PS: good for Munro.

  • Rickey Quinn

    I too was shocked and appalled by the lack of Covid enforcement. The parking fee is also unbelievable for Fresno. And I have no senior discount, disgusting. We’ve had season tickets for years. The individual sitting next to us refused to wear their mask once the lights went out. They pretended to be drinking a beer through the whole play. I had a bottle of water. I would take a sip, put my mask back on, and put the bottle down. They left their mask off through the whole presentation. This caused us to leave early. Very unfair on the Saroyan’s part not to monitor and enforce their own policy. I think I’ll be calling and requesting a refund of my season tickets this year. Something I’ve never done before. But if they’re not going follow their own rules, why in the world should I subject myself while supporting them? Pretty simple mandate really. I too had my drivers license out and Covid vaccination card at the ready. Somebody came by with a brief flashlight. My name is Rickey. They should’ve at least asked to see an ID of a woman whose name is Rickey. Disgusting the City can’t step up to the plate and do a better job or make THEIR venue be more responsible!!

  • Susan Millard

    I was in shock and disbelief when the parking attendant informed me there was no discount for my handicap placard as well as the fact I’m a senior! I would like to know who is in charge of making the final decision on the increased parking fee? I realize I could park farther away and walk to the theater while praying I don’t get mugged! Perhaps it is time to give up the privilege of attending live theater???

  • Gary

    We’ll I guess I will have to state the obvious. The demographics of the theater crowd suggests the increase in parking prices can be easily absorbed. Everyone paid almost a $100.00 to see the show. The effects of the increase will be difficult on the other events like Disney on Ice which provides entertainment to a more economic diverse crowd. The Covid issue is ridiculous. Everyone is either negative or vaccinated. What more is needed? If people can’t be comfortable in a setting in which everyone is negative or fully vaccinated then they should wonder out to large gathering.

  • Peter Nevin

    I paid $9 to park at the Music Center
    in LA for Tannhauser.

  • Foster S.

    Are you still going to post the review of the production itself? I can’t find it anywhere on the website. Thank you.

      • Jim Wilson

        Donald –I don’t really care about what others thought of CATS. I subscribe to the Munro report to hear what YOU think of the plays. I would love to read your thoughts about it, even if it’s two weeks later.

  • Bill Walker

    This replicates my experience opening night. That evening I contacted a Broadway Across America official. Susie Kent from Broadway called me the next day and said there were many complaints from the opening night audience. I explained that my wife and I were the only masked people in row B and that the lady sitting next to my wife bragged that she was not vaccinated and did not intend to be. Ms. Kent said representatives were flown to Fresno before the second night’s performance to ensure the rules would be followed. The price for parking is inexcusable; with our handicapped parking we were paying $7.00. There was no break foe seniors or handicapped.

  • Vanessa

    Turning theater and restart employees into medical record checkers is overreach as well as arbitrary/ captions behavior. Having worked un medical over 21 years and employed by the last County coroner Dr. Hadden we need to pay attention to federal HIPAA medical privacy act. Some uneducated minimum wage person snooping at my medical records is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
    Saroyan Theater is dying a slow death and Donald is hung up on $20.00 parking fees….none of which will mater if local performing arts and national touring companies cease to exist.
    Building Lively Arts takes community support for +30 years took a decline 10 years ago with a SHARP decline the last 6 years , these ridiculous mandates ( not laws) make it impossible for Performing Arts groups. Cost of rental is escalated and there is no ROI with the limitations and hassles with # of seats.
    Yet none of you question what data or study they have utilized to determine 999 seats. If you have that clinical I would very much like to read it’s design and outcomes. Alas I doubt a study exists its the knee jerk pulling mandates out of Newsoms arse like with Church attendance ( which he lost the lawsuit on) but huge box stores like Lowes crammed full with people.
    Back to the parking expense it’s possibly more feasible for people to share a taxi or Uber. Before the arson and vandalism performed on my Church Holy Trinity and Culture at Fresno HAT ( Historical Armenian Town) people would park in church parking lot or Armenian Town and walk 1.5 blocks. The Armenian culture center at times has charged $5.00 for parking behind gates. The national historical registered holy Trinity church after 100 years had to install wrought iron ( never though I would see the day we had to have protection to keep people out)
    It is possible on nights of performances they could charge a lower fee for patrons .
    Donald needs to examine and research the science behind >999 vs <999
    With the impending sell of the convention center and beloved Saroyan to private outside investors I guarantee you 1) rental price will continue to increase driving out local performing arts groups or they will cease to exist 2) ticket and parking will escalate out of control 3) the private new owner will dismiss union stage hands.

    I disagree with the entire premise that theater employees with limited education shoukd be medical record checkers . Let them show us their medical records. Most the last few performances at 2100 seat Saroyan have been 50% full. (1,000 and under) I doubt if employees could check every ID and match it to our vaccination card as the writer suggests. It's not in their job description nor woukd they be willing to show us their vaccination card.

    This is the death of our local performing arts
    And makes no local sense. Those protestors protesting a church using Tower Theater 1 day a week for 38 weeks should protest the City of Fresnos mismanagement of Fresno

  • Vanoush

    Let’s not forget the upcharge on each ticket ( facility fee)


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