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Pittsburgh CLO launches discounts, child care, and other initiatives to encourage attendance

A Black woman in a red and white gown stands on a stage.
kgtunney Photography
Pittsburgh CLO
Sandra Okuboyejo stars in Pittsburgh CLO's 2023 production of "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812."

In time for its summer season, Pittsburgh CLO has become the latest performing-arts group to unveil new initiatives to bring back audiences lost since the pandemic shutdown.

The CLO announced Tuesday it would offer discounted tickets for children, a trolley shuttle Downtown from suburban shopping centers, and free child care at Saturday matinees. The offers apply on selected dates or selected shows at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Byham Theater and Greer Cabaret Theater.

“I’m just hoping that these programs [open] up some opportunities for families — and other people — that may have thought that musical theater in the summer is out of reach,” said CLO executive producer Mark Fleischer. “Hopefully these programs put it very much in reach for them.”

The CLO follows several other Downtown-based groups that have recently instituted new ways to attract and keep audiences, including Pittsburgh Opera, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Like those projects, the CLO’s initiatives were backed by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation — in the CLO’s case, a $150,000 gift.

Fleischer said that, like many arts leaders, he once expected audience members who’d found other ways to occupy themselves during the shutdown of 2020-2021 to return in force. But while the CLO staged its traditional, six-show summer season at the Benedum Center in both 2022 and 2023, attendance remains down about 20% from its pre-pandemic level, he said.

The CLO has scaled back accordingly, he said, with a budget down from $13 million to $11.5 million. Its summer season still features six productions, but instead of all six taking over the 2,800-seat Benedum, one will occupy the 1,300-seat Byham Theater and two will be held at the 200-seat Greer Cabaret Theater.

Fleischer calls that “right-sizing” for shows with a more intimate feel or just more niche appeal; based on focus groups the CLO conducted, he said he also believes the smaller venues might themselves be more appealing to some audiences than the huge, grandly appointed Benedum.

But Tuesday’s announcement focused on the three initiatives designed to lower such barriers as transportation, parking, child care, and the expense of taking multiple children to a show.

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The new CLO Show Shuttle was created in response to patrons or potential patrons who don’t like driving Downtown or parking there, or even just paying to park there. For $10, ticket-buyers can board a Molly’s Trolleys bus, park-and-ride style, at one of four locations in suburban shopping centers, located north, south, east and west of Pittsburgh, and take it to the show. (The sites are in Cranberry, Monroeville, the Mall at Robinson and the Tanger Outlet Mall, in Washington.) The trolleys will be available at selected times and dates during each of the six productions.

The CLO Family Pass offers $10 tickets to up to four children for each adult ticket purchased to a given performance of “West Side Story,” “The Music Man,” “Seussical” and “The Color Purple.” (The ages are 3-18 for the former three shows, and 13-18 for “Color Purple” due to content.)

And Show Care provides a free afternoon of activities to children ages 3 to 12 while their parents catch a Saturday matinee of “West Side Story,” “The Color Purple” or “The Music Man.”

Fleischer emphasized this program does not provide just a couple of hours of day care. Show Care will be staffed by faculty from the CLO’s Academy of Musical Theatre, and the activities will be arts-oriented and themed to the show in question. For instance, while their adults take in “The Music Man,” he said, the kids will “learn a song from ‘Music Man,’ they’re gonna learn a dance step from ‘Music Man,” and they might do a craft.”

Fleischer noted the Show Shuttle hearkens to the actual streetcar that once took the 78-year-old CLO’s patrons to old Pitt Stadium, where it staged shows in its early years. The initiative’s focus on transportation also recalls the Pittsburgh Opera’s new program providing free Uber vouchers to a limited number of ticket buyers to its Downtown shows.

“Everyone thinks price is the barrier to entry. It’s not always,” Fleischer said.

The CLO’s summer season begins May 17 with a six-week run of the Billie Holliday revue “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” at the Greer. That’s followed by six-day stands each of “West Side Story,” “The Music Man” and “The Color Purple,” all at the Benedum. Then comes a scaled-down “chamber” version of “Young Frankenstein” for six weeks at the Greer, and six days of “Seussical” at the Byham.

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: