Enjoy the arts without breaking the bank

The Baltimore Sun

In a shaky economy, we all know what the financial experts advise: cancel your cable, drop your season tickets and start staying in. In essence, stop having fun. But being frugal and being cultured don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Richard Anderson The Sun's critics and arts writers offer up their best advice on now to enjoy the Baltimore arts scene on a budget.

THEATER

Go on a weeknight: If you've been to the Charles Theatre in the past year, chances are you've seen commercials featuring Irene Lewis, Center Stage's artistic director. Lewis expresses mock outrage upon learning that a popcorn and soda cost $10, commenting: "You can see a play at Center Stage for $10!"

And, sure enough, tickets in the "C" seating area are available for every Tuesday and Wednesday night performance for a tenner. Also, walk-up tickets are sometimes can be bought for half price on the day of the show up until an hour before curtain. (410-986-4000, www.centerstage.org)

Across town, Everyman Theatre offers a five-play subscription on some weeknights for just $70. Unlike Center Stage, seats at Everyman aren't assigned. So, $14 will buy you the best seat in the house. Also on Sunday evenings, $10 tickets are occasionally available. (410-752-2208; www.everymantheatre.org)

Work for a bargain: Volunteer to usher for your favorite organization. That's a time-honored method to see a show for free.

In addition, the Washington area offers an extensive program of free theater: Every summer, the Shakespeare Theatre mounts 10 free shows in Rock Creek, usually beginning around Memorial Day. This year's offering will be Hamlet; details will be available on the theater's Web site beginning in April(202-393-0916, www.shakespearetheatre.org).

[MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY]

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Show up in person: At the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall box office, you can buy unreserved seats for $15 to many Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts in advance, or up to 6 p.m. on the performance day ($18 if purchased online or by phone). That price goes to $25 (or $28) for some "premium concerts." The exact ticket location will be determined 24 to 48 hours before the event, so you could end up with prime seats or upper balcony, but the sound is going to be good regardless. Although demand will determine availability, that still leaves a lot of possibilities each season. (410-783-8000, bsomusic.org)

Listen in bulk: Becoming a subscriber can be the hardest thing financially, but it's the surest way to save bucks. Subscribers to the Shriver Hall Concert Series pay under $25 a concert to hear some of the same artists presented at Carnegie Hall for two or three times as much (410-516-7164, shriverconcerts.org) If you're in the coveted demographic of 18- to 25-year-olds, check out the Baltimore Opera Company's wallet-friendly "Extreme Opera" program. For $50, you get a best-available ticket (one hour before curtain) to two operas of your choice, plus the option to buy up to four more tickets at $20 each, so your friends can join you (410-727-6000, baltimoreopera.com).

[TIM SMITH]

MOVIES

Bring your own seats: When it comes to Baltimore movie bargains, there is no better deal than the Bengies Drive-In, a Baltimore County landmark since it opened at 3417 Eastern Blvd. on June 6, 1956. On Friday and Saturday nights for just one admission, generally between $6 and $8 (depending on what owner D. Vogel has to shell out to get the films), movie lovers get to watch three first-run films from the comfort of their own cars. Come the end of May, the Bengies will add Sunday nights to its schedule. Maryland's only surviving drive-in theater kicks-off its 53rd season Saturday. (410-687-5627, www.bengies.com)

Watch and discuss: Tom Warner, Marc Sober and the films buffs at the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Central branch, 400 Cathedral St., have tastes ranging from sublime to ridiculous, leading to film screenings eclectic enough for any taste. On April 12, for instance, Sober's Film Talk discussion group will watch and debate Akira Kurosawa's 1960 film Ikiru (To Live) at 10 a.m. At 2 p.m., the Pratt's "Rare Reels: The Best Films You've Never Seen" series will show 1952's The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, an animated adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. Now there's a double feature that no ordinary mind could conceive. Best of all? Like all screenings at the Pratt, admission is free. (410-396-5430, www.prattlibrary.org)

[CHRIS KALTENBACH]

POP MUSIC

Five for five: Some of the area's better bands get their foot in the door of The 8x10 by playing the venue's Five Bands for $5 shows every Tuesday. The lineups can be hit or miss, but organizers keep the event well paced. And local music lovers get to see brand-new Baltimore acts before they get big. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Tickets are available at the door only. The club is at 8 E. Cross St. (410-625-2000, the8x10.com)

Nightly performances: Since the '70s, the Cat's Eye Pub has been one of Fells Point's best spots for consistently high-quality live music. Veteran blues, jazz and roots musicians from Baltimore and beyond take the stage on a nightly basis. But since the place isn't always jam-packed with patrons, it still feels like a well-kept secret. The cover - if there is one - is usually only $5. The pub is at 1730 Thames St. (410-276-9866, catseyepub.com)

[SAM SESSA]

VISUAL ARTS

Browse for free: In the fall of 2006, general admission was permanently waived to the city's two premiere museums - the Walters Art Museum (410-547-9000, thewalters.org) and the Baltimore Museum of Art (443-573-1700 or artbma.org). That gives you free access to a huge variety of heralded modern and post-impressionist pieces.

Undiscovered talent: As it grows, Station North Arts and Entertainment District is slowly becoming one of the city's best destinations for cutting-edge art. A number of galleries reside in the neighborhood, featuring works from local and nationally renowned artists as well as students of the Maryland Institute College of Art. Take a day and tour galleries such as Load of Fun (120 W. North Ave., 410-467-2126, loadoffun.net), the Metro Gallery (1700 N. Charles St., themetrogallery.net), WESTNORTH Studio (106 W. North Ave., 410-962-1475, westnorthstudio.com) and the Station North Arts Cafe Gallery (1816 N. Charles St., 410-625-6440). Be sure to call ahead first since some of these galleries have irregular hours.

[SAM SESSA]

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