Bass Concert Hall: Park, Pee and Leave (or not)
The musical was great, but the venue is a problem
By Andy Campbell,
6:15PM, Fri. Feb. 20, 2009
No one likes to bitch - But no one likes to pay $10 for parking, either.
I've been going to see musicals with my fabulous mother since I was five years old. If it has toured the country, chances are we've seen it. So both of us were excited when it was revealed that the Bass Concert Hall would finally be reopening with a wonderful 2009 season: Legally Blonde, Spamalot, Rent, Avenue Q and Wicked. Hot Damn!
It was with great anticipation that we drove on Sunday to see Legally Blonde together. The musical? It was cute, energetic, and fine. Camp and class.
But it was difficult to concentrate on the show, see, because everything else about the UTPAC experience was difficult and depressing.
Let's start at the very beginning: Parking. Now in years past I've just parked at the LBJ library, only to cross a plaza and walk down a series of steps and ramps to get to the Bass. We pull up to the lot: $10! I am putting this out in the open right now, I like to park for free. In fact, I prefer it. Unless there is a pressing reason to pay for parking - we're late or in a bigger city like Los Angeles or New York - I usually don't. Ten dollars is more than the parking lots on Sixth Street charge for a weekend night! So why, on a Sunday afternoon does every parking spot even remotely close to the Bass Concert Hall cost 10 dollars?
Here's why the Bass is shooting itself in the foot, if in fact, it administers this parking scheme for every performance. All efforts to reach a diverse socio-economic crowd will fall flat on its face without good, free parking. You think someone is going to buy a $20 ticket and pay half of their ticket price so they can park? As Seth Meyers on SNL is wont to say: Really?!? All the Bass is doing is reiterating how exclusive and class-ist cultural productions like the Broadway in Austin series can be. It doesn't have to be this way.
Here's when a $10 parking rate is appropriate: You've just opened a world-class concert facility designed by either Frank Gehry and/or Herzog & de Meuron. The Bass is neither a world-class facility nor designed by a world-renowned/challenging architect.
But the horrors didn't stop. After parking (ugh) and walking to the venue, I spent some time admiring the new and open lobbies on all floors which are elegant and white. Very white. Art abounds on all floors, but the higher up you go the worse the sculptures are, with the exception of a ridiculously wonderful Ursula von Rydingsvard wooden sculpture on the 6th floor. Cheaper tickets, cheaper art. Nice.
Because my mother is early everywhere (a family curse) I naturally wanted to take a step outside to grab a book from the Fine Arts Library, I'm in the middle of qualifying exams and need a constant supply of books to keep me on top of my game. "Tsk tsk," said a Bass employee/volunteer. No ins and outs, unless I were to get a very special pink slip which would prove my authenticity as a Legally Blonde patron. Like my ticket stub wasn't good enough? Again, Really?!?!? This may have not been a big deal to some punk kid who just wants to grab a book, but when intermission hit and there was a line as long as the Wall of China coming out of the women's restroom, you can bet that dozens of "valued patrons" wanted in to the bathrooms of the adjacent Fine Arts building. Each was given a tiny pink slip, the size of a fortune cookie prophecy and told to show it upon reentry. That was, until the Bass ran out of slips. Whoops.
Needless to say the entry/reentry system was a failure, and many of those seated around us were talking about it before the second act began. Why piss off your patrons when all they want to do is take a piss? It's a time of crisis! Fiftenn minutes, hundreds of bladders to expel. You understand, surely.
At show's end, I was wondering if we needed to get a slip of paper to leave the building for good. I wouldn't have been surprised. I left the Bass not exhilarated, but steamed.
Three simple things you &ndash yes, you, Bass and UT staff &ndash can do to ensure a more pleasant experience for your guests:
1) Free Parking. Sure you may not be raking in tens of thousands of dollars, but you're also expressing to your patrons that you appreciate their dollar in the first place and have no interest in taking advantage of them.
2) Think about art placement a bit more. It's a small gripe but not beyond my notice.
3) Let patrons go in and out of the venue. Denying exit and entrance rights only makes the patron feel that the venue has an antagonistic assumption about the patron's wants and needs.
I feel like this is Customer Service 101.
Bottom line: I can't wait to see the next musical... oh, wait, yes I can.