I don't get out much. No, really. Chronic pain puts a serious damper on your social life... and work life... and just life in general. Last night, three of us braved two sardine-style packed BART trains and a picnic in the rain to see California Shakespeare Festival's "Taming of the Shrew." We were in pretty good spirits. The land on which the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre sits is a watershed, and is just as beautiful wet as dry. We shared a bottle of wine and a delicious chèvre under the dripping eucalyptus, spied an owl in the trees above, and made ready to hunker down in the theater with our winter coats and a big fleece blanket. But it was not to be.
After standing by the theater doors for half an hour waiting for them to open the house, with no announcements or updates from staff, we were told the performance would be cancelled and to collect a voucher good for a ticket in the same section to another performance of the show... which only runs for another week. I've got a couple of issues, here.
Now, CalShakes is a non-profit organization. I completely understand that it's difficult for them to give refunds. My issue is not with the voucher, it's that it's essentially only good for another 10 days. It's the last show of the season, and seating is limited. Luckily, the members of my party are all free next Wednesday, and luckily, there is availability in the same section on that night--probably because we were in the cheap seats to start with. But what about the season ticket holders, who will be forced to take seats with an inferior view, if they get seats at all? What if we're rained out again next week? So late in the run, vouchers should be good not only for this show, but for next season as well. That's gripe #1.
Gripe #2 has to do with a lack of clear messaging and communication. This is always a pet peeve of mine, as we saw in my rant about Clipper Card's customer service. Today, of course, there are several prominent links on the CalShakes website regarding their rain policy, but I didn't see them yesterday when I looked before leaving the house. Then, there was absolutely zero communication with the crowd that stood in the rain for 30 minutes waiting to be seated. Clearly, not everyone who'd bought a ticket showed up, but those of us who did deserved a little more courtesy. If they'd made an announcement that they were waiting to see if the drizzle let up, and otherwise the performance would be cancelled, I'm sure at least half of us would have left right then, considering that the self-same drizzle had been going on for hours.
And maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I agree with the elderly gentleman seated next to my other half on the shuttle back to the BART station: What ever happened to "the show must go on?" As I pointed out, in Shakespeare's day, the expression was "to hear a play," not "to see a play." If they're worried about falling, why couldn't the actors stand in one place on stage and give us an animated vocal performance? We were all willing to brave wet butts and soggy coats for them. Throw on a slicker, and give me the same consideration.
The whole experience brought to mind another "Taming of the Shrew" years ago. I must have been in high school. My family had had season tickets to CalShakes since I was a tiny girl, and we'd never missed a performance. The weather was threatening, but we bundled up and braved it. At intermission, it began to shower. They held the second act until it let up, but a few minutes in, it started coming down again. Most of the audience left, but the actors put clear ponchos over their costumes, reduced their movement, and continued the play. I remember Sharon Lockwood, as Gremio, carrying a goofy umbrella. By curtain call, my family made up four of the half-dozen who'd stuck it out. We gave the cast a standing ovation. They applauded us right back. It was one of the most unique and rewarding theater-going experiences of my teenage years. Last night could have been just as unique, just as rewarding. Instead, it was an epic disappointment.
My partner, my friend, and I will return next week to see "Shrew." I'll psych myself up to leave the house, I'll suffer the rush-hour BART ride. We'll have some more wine, some more cheese, and we'll enjoy the show. But even if it's the best performance in the world, I'll still have some regret and resentment about last night. I just hope it doesn't rain.