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Uber to opera? Pittsburgh Opera offers ride vouchers to lure audiences

The Flying Dutchman opera
David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera
For the rest of 2024, Pittsburgh Opera is offering a limited number of patrons of its Downtown shows (like last November's "The Flying Dutchman," pictured) $60 Uber vouchers.

During the pandemic shutdown, performing-arts groups developed new online programming to try to reach audiences literally where they lived.

But once the shutdown ended, many patrons stayed home. So this week, Pittsburgh Opera is rolling out a new way to physically carry at least some audiences back to theaters — free door-to-door car service.

For the remainder of 2024, the opera will provide Uber vouchers worth $60 each to a limited number of ticket-buyers for each of its Downtown performances. Up to 75 vouchers will be available for each performance on a first-come, first-served basis.

The initiative — the first of its kind in Pittsburgh and perhaps for arts groups anywhere — was announced Monday. The first show to which it will apply is the opera’s new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” March 16-24 at the Benedum Center.

“The purpose of this program really is to eliminate barriers to people who want to be able to come to see Pittsburgh Opera performances but are concerned about transportation to get them to the theater,” said spokesperson Chris Cox.

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As for many performing-arts groups, attendance at Pittsburgh Opera performances has rebounded from 2021, when large-scale in-person performances resumed, but not to pre-pandemic levels.

Cox said ticket revenue for the troupe’s biggest shows, staged at the Benedum Center, has averaged about 11% less since the fall of 2021 than they averaged in the several seasons before the pandemic.

Cox said both anecdotal feedback from audience members and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust surveys suggest one reason is patrons’ transportation worries.

“Sometimes they don’t feel like driving, they don’t want to worry about having to park somewhere or walking back to the parking lot after the show, and they might not live in an area where public transportation is convenient,” he said.

Patrons must have an Uber account to redeem the vouchers, which can be used on the show’s performance date for rides starting or ending within a half-mile radius of the theater. There is also a time buffer on either side of the performance to accommodate pre- or post-show activities, he said.

“We believe this is the first program of its kind, both within the region and within the wider opera world,” said Christopher Hahn, the opera’s general director, in a statement.

The program is funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

In addition to “La Traviata,” the vouchers will be available for the opera’s three remaining Downtown performances this calendar year, including “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson," set for April 27-May 5 at the Byham Theater, and its two fall shows at the Benedum, whose titles have yet to be announced.

The offer is not available for shows taking place at the Opera’s Strip District headquarters or other non-Downtown venues.

More information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: