A TRIP TO ALCATRAZ OFFERS GOOD THEATER
By Marie J. Kilker
At a San Francisco meeting of the American Theatre Critics Association, I found a good day of theater on a trip to Alcatraz. You can too!
Just as with most theaters, you’ll want to reserve a ticket to see the show on Alcatraz Island, whether morning or through late afternoon closing, though there’s an Alcatraz Night Tour too. You get your ticket for the show from the box office. Contact www.alcatrazcruises.com or call 415-981 ROCK. You board 30 minutes before your Ferry ride to Alcatraz at Pier 33 at Bay Street.
As you might have guessed, you’ll actually reach the performance of your choice at the Ferry time you’ve booked. That’s at 9 a.m. or any 40 minute period until, usually, mid afternoon. (In summer, the finishing time is 6:30; other seasons at 4:30 p.m.) You can enjoy a snack breakfast, brunch, lunch, or little “bite” on board, but you can’t bring food into the main stage or side shows (like the gardens).
You may finish eats on board or at a special place on the dock where you’ll dispose of scraps. That’s also where you leave empty bottles any time you’ve brought water with you.
If you cannot make it up the steep climb up the hill to the main theater areas, there’s SEAR, the Sustainable Easy Access Transport shuttle, running between dock and prison building. You can avail yourself of the regular rides, first come, first served, both up and later down.
Yours to enjoy is a little Orientation film close to the dock. “Alcatraz: Stories from the Rock” amounts to a 17 minute preview of the performance. Captions are in English and Spanish. There’s a kind of historical lobby behind the theater exhibiting periods in Alcatraz’s history.
The main attraction is a 45 minute Audio Tour. With headphones on to hear dialogue, almost certainly in your language, you can go on to an immersive theater experience! The atmosphere–which up to now’s been light and breezy and full of colors from the island’s many gardens of flowers–gets close. You’ll pass through a relatively small main entry gate of closed-in floor-to-ceiling iron bars. No wide open, welcoming gate here!
Your audio acts like a group of ushers leading and talking you through to your theatrical experience inside Alcatraz prison. It’s what’s called devised theater–a script developed from an idea. A prominent idea is hearing talk from and about notorious prisoners like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Arthur “Doc Barker.” Their pictures are posted outside a row of cells they knew well. Outside D Block is a pic of Robert Stroud, of “Birdman” fame, who arrived there in 1942, never to be with the general population. You’ll find he wasn’t ever popular anywhere.
In an act of immersive theater, you can try out one of the 9×5 foot cells and even snap a pic of yourself caught in the slammer. Don’t get too immersed though, because you’ll want to visit the dining, library, and recreation rooms. The latter two were privileges.
If you stop in to see the administrative offices, you can step out into the outside light and look over some of the gardens, paths, and water. You’ll be happy you can get out to them, as the prisoners could not.
Outside, finally, you may wish to tour the spacious, spectacular gardens and watch the wildlife. But don’t touch any of the props or “set” of scenery so important to the Alcatraz theatrical production you’re enjoying.
As in most large regional theaters, there’s a gift shop where you can pick up souvenirs ranging from post cards to tee shirts to types of (prison) amenities like metal cups. There are many history-related books and pamphlets. Proceeds of sales help maintain Alcatraz as a UNESCO site with administration by The National Park Service.
You’ll have a lot to lock into your memories on the Ferry ride back to Pier 33. And you can keep the “Welcome to Alcatraz Island” Visitor Info brochure that came with your ticket to stir your basic memory of a unique theatrical experience.