San Francisco Archived Features
•  No Collared Shirt Required
•  People Soup: Tourist Tourism
•  SF’s Indie Flick Havens
•  Gelato: The Ultimate Scoop
•  Entertaining Crazy Uncle Charlie
•  The Bay by the City
•  High Culture Trifecta for Cheapskates!
•  No Cover, No Minimum
•  Joshua Abraham Norton: Emperor of the USA
•  Mission San Francisco de Asis: The Center of the City
•  Free & Cheap for Kids in the Bay Area
•  School Days
•  Biking the Hills of SF

High Culture Trifecta for Cheapskates!
Catherine Wargo

Most of us in San Francisco are cultural slackers. When asked the reasons why we love our beautiful city despite its astronomical rents and $4 orange juices at the corner store, we usually extol the cultural and artistic community. The access to culture, we say, is almost unrivaled. You could easily go to a museum, see a play, and attend the ballet all in the same day. But let’s be honest, aside from having out of town visitors, how often do we find ourselves wandering the Legion of Honor or attending a matinee at the ACT Theatre on a Saturday afternoon? Not too often. We’re just plain lazy when it comes to culture. We like to know that it’s there for our taking, but we don’t really take advantage of all the exciting and wonderful happenings around town. The best part is that culture not only enriches our lives, but it can also be extremely cheap, even a bargain at times. The following is a guide to three of the best cultural assets that our city has to offer.

photo: Catherine Wargo
The San Francisco Symphony
If you’re new to the symphony (let’s admit it, most of us have probably never gone) there is a fantastic first-time attendee tips Web page that the kind people at the symphony have prepared. Did you know that cough lozenges are always available in the lobby for free? Just make sure to always unwrap them before the performance starts, to avoid nasty stares from fellow patrons.

Another great resource for those of us who admittedly don’t know anything about classical music is the online “concert concierge” on their Web site. It’s like an online dating preferences survey?are you after music that’s light and fun, dramatic and thrilling, edgy and intense? Would you like to see a show within the next two months? This is essentially an online staff pick, like that flick you just rented at the video from the clerk’s
choice section. A big misconception is that prices for any kind of cultural event are ridiculously expensive. In fact, in a lot of cases if you factor in popcorn and soda, the symphony is cheaper than a crappy Hollywood
blockbuster. At every performance, forty “center terrace” seats located behind stage are available two hours prior to the performance at the box office. Each ticket costs $15-$20 (cash only, limit two tickets per person) and gains the buyer access to what are arguably the best (if most unorthodox) seats in the house.

Basic subscription prices aren’t actually that expensive either, and there are some interesting and unusual deals to choose from. The Friday 6.5 Series (6 concerts, $186 and up, Fridays at 6:30 pm) walks the listeners through the music?the symphony will play a piece of the music, and then the conductor will give a short talk about it before they go through the whole piece. The Katharine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal Series (8 concerts, $152, Wednesdays at 10 am) gives a unique opportunity for the viewer to watch how each piece makes its way to the polished performance.

photo: Catherine Wargo
San Francisco Opera
Even if just for the chance to reenact “Pretty Woman” or see how you look in opera glasses (available for $4 and a valid drivers license as a deposit), you’ve got to check out this longstanding cultural institution. Tickets can be ordered online up to 48 hours before each performance. The more affordable tickets are located on the Balcony Side ($25 weekdays/$30 weekends) or Balcony Rear ($35 weekdays/ $40 weekends) sections of the theatre. The online ordering process offers a “click here” view from each section of seating to let you know exactly what you’ll be getting. For $25 on a weekday night, it’s worth it for an evening of entertainment that doesn’t involve The Apprentice or Bud Light. Speaking of Bud Light, each of these high-class bastions of culture also features several full bars for your entertainment before, during, and after the performance. Drink up and get cultured.

They offer an “opera beginner series”?four major operas this upcoming season including Rigoletto, the Barber of Seville, Carmen, and Don Giovanni, starting from $101 for the cheap seats. That’s a great deal. For those opera-attendees with a little more of a taste for what they want, they offer the operatic equivalent of a flavor pack?a series of tickets that feature tragedies or comedies, leading ladies or leading men.

And, for those of us who have only seen opera on television, I must point something else out. Although the opera will indeed be sung in Italian, French, German, or some other language you forgot when you left high school, all operas now have subtitles. So, the ticker-tape-like machine at the bottom of the stage will translate it all into English. High culture is so user-friendly these days?what’s not to love?

photo: Catherine Wargo
San Francisco Ballet
As San Franciscans, we all owe the SF Ballet a proper visit. As the first professional ballet company in America, in 1933 it was training dancers to perform in full-length operas. That changed when William Christensen arrived in 1938 and made the ballet an act in itself?he staged the first full-length ballet performances in the country, including the very first “Nutcracker,” staged on Christmas Eve 1944. So, as usual, our fair city by the Bay was ahead of the times?even in one of the arenas that some might consider elitist or snobby. The notion that culture is cost-prohibitive is no longer quite applicable, with tickets for many of these events in the $20 range.

There are two types of ballet performances, full-length or mixed repertory. A full-length ballet is just what it sounds like?a whole story, usually unfolding over three acts, typically 2 to 3 hours in length (recommended
for only the very ambitious first-time ballet attendee). The mixed repertory programs are kind of like a ballet variety show–the pieces are shorter and sometimes have a theme or storyline, but can also just be random pieces. For most first-timers this is a great choice because you can get your ballet in small doses. Tickets for a single performance can be as low as $8 on the weeknights, with several other reasonable options for better seats in that price range. Some performances also offer a standing room only option, but these are really a last resort option if a spectacular show is sold out. Spring for the $16 Balcony Center seats and you will have one impressed date on your hands.

True to its leftie roots, San Francisco seems to have done its best to bring culture to the masses. Attending one of these performances doesn’t have to be for a special occasion or when your second cousin from Arkansas comes to visit. Think of it this way: If Lost is a rerun on Wednesday, you could easily go out and spend $30 on drinks with your buddy—or you could take yourself on a little cultural trip, while still wearing jeans and still get home by 10 pm.

Post a Comment