One of the nicest things you can do for yourself when you travel is to experience local theater. Whether it’s a small local theater group, a small traveling repertory group, a small drama theater, or a full-blown Broadway cast on tour — you can’t go wrong getting a taste of the local high culture.
Theater downtown LA
In my adopted home-town of Los Angeles, CA, I never miss an opportunity to see a show at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theater or its smaller Mark Taper Forum, both at the Music Center downtown LA. Buses go right to it and trains get you very close. (They have a 3rd theater in Culver City that’s also accessible by bus.) A show there is the perfect way to top off a day of walking around downtown.
I’ve sat almost all over both of these theaters and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in either house — and I’ve never been disappointed by a performance at these theaters. In fact, to those who say LA lacks the great theater of Broadway, I reply that I’m a native New Yorker and was a Broadway snob when it came to LA, until giving LA theater such as this a chance. This is great theater. If you’re a budget traveler, you’ll want to know about Hot Tix, which gets you a seat for $20. [Update: They’ve stopped Hot Tix and now have a daily lottery through TodayTix and other low-cost tickets. This link should still get you to the ticket options page.]
(For anyone on a budget, eat before coming to the area. The taco stand and snack shop will kill your budget and not satisfy. There are nice restaurants in the complex though.)
LA is also full of tiny theaters. TV actors like to play to live audiences and there are plenty of playwrights testing out new material or trying to break in. There’s no telling what the quality will be but it’s likely to be an interesting experience.
Community theater in Big Bear CA
While in the mountain resort of Big Bear just outside of Los Angeles, I was invited to see their local performance of The Wizard Of Oz. Small town theater, my friend and I thought, how awful will that be. Wow, were we blown away! It was fantastic! Turns out a lot of Broadway NY and Hollywood CA theater professionals retire to Big Bear and to say this was staged/costumed/acted quite well is an understatement. You see, you just never know! We were so glad we took our mountain tour guide up on his suggestion. (As we were invited as guests because I was there to write a travel article about Big Bear, we made donations to the theater fund to help ensure it would keep producing.) Tickets are easily affordable and I don’t think you’ll be sorry you invested the hours.
Other theater I’ve experienced
I’m not an opera buff but I saw opera in East Berlin while the wall was still up, and also in Vienna, Austria — and was very glad I’d gone.
I think everyone knows there’s great theater in London. When I was there way-back-when, they had what I think were called Ten Minute Rush tickets. That is, last minute open seats for a huge discount (it was 10 pounds back then). They were sold at each theater’s box office. Because theaters were close to one another, that worked well. (Like the TKTS booth does in NYC but can’t be done in LA.)
Even if you don’t speak…
During my year in Central America, I skipped theater due to language (except for watching the current Spy Kids in Spanish at the movies). I’m sorry I missed out.
Don’t let language stop you.
You might get a lot out of the performance even if you can’t fully follow the story.