"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Take The Trolley To The Theater

(My love of alliteration may have brought me to a new low here, but I simply could not resist using that headline)

Spring is here.  It’s time to get out and do things.  So, exercise and explore to your heart’s content, and do yourself some good.  Here’s a recommendation that might not occur to you:  Go see some live theater.  It’s hugely entertaining and intellectually stimulating, which is another basic need that likely went underserved during the dark days of winter.  Not just any theater, mind you (although I would certainly encourage that also), but specifically Theater Horizon, at 401 DeKalb Street in Norristown.

Theater Horizon is the primary draw (so far) of the developing “Norristown Arts Hill” effort.  In fact, this Saturday, May 4, is the annual “Arts Hill Festival,” an event sponsored by the Norristown Arts Council, which showcases the arts with some food, games and good old community outing fun, all along the hill up DeKalb Street.  Check it out; you’ll be glad you did!

Theater Horizon itself was created in 2005 by King of Prussia residents Erin Reilly and Matthew Decker, and quickly became a major contributor to the Montgomery County arts scene.  It’s a non-profit organization, and stages a three-show season.  A thriving arts community can be an important asset to any town, and in particular for one that is striving for revival.  That alone is a good reason to support Theater Horizon, as you will also be supporting Norristown’s nascent one.  There is another reason, also a good one.  Theater Horizon contributes to the community by offering drama classes for children and a program that uses actors to teach socialization skills to children with autism.  In other words, by buying a ticket to any of its shows you are aiding children and helping an arts community to grow, all while entertaining yourself.  That’s hard to beat.

Theater Horizon’s next show is “The 39 Steps,” which begins May 15 and runs through June 8.  The basis for the play is the well-known Alfred Hitchcock film, but it is by no means just another version.  This “39 Steps” is a two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award winning delight that is played for laughs (an advertisement says the play adds “a dash of Monty Python, which certainly gets my attention).  It features an on-stage plane crash, and over 150 characters make their appearance.  These 150 characters, by the way, are all played by a cast of four!  That alone should be worth the price of admission.

For more information about Theater Horizon, check out their website at:

Now for some advice on how to get there.  For a great many of you, your automobile is the only way, of course.  There are two parking lots close to the theater; the largest is a county lot at the corner of DeKalb and East Airy Street (which was to be the site of the “Pennrose Project,” about which I have previously written, but it’s still a parking lot now).  There is also street parking nearby, which in Norristown is free after 6PM on weekdays and all day on weekends.  For those of you concerned about parking a car on an urban street or an open lot after dark (a very widespread concern in any urban area, and by no means a knock on Norristown), your best bet is the SEPTA parking garage at the Norristown Transportation Center.  It’s at the corner of DeKalb and Lafayette.  From there, it’s a two-block walk to Theater Horizon.  The bad news is that it’s uphill; the good news is that when the play is over, the walk back to your car is so much easier.

Then again, if you are going to park at SEPTA’s Norristown Transportation Center, why come by car at all?  If you take bus, train, or the trolley, you end up in the same place, with the same walk to the theater, without all the hassle and in probably less time. 
So think about skipping the car altogether, and arriving by alternate transportation.

Okay, I’ll advocate only short bus rides for this trip; they run too infrequently and take too long for those not too close to Norristown already.  I’m going to take some heat for saying this, but I feel justified.  I fully appreciate buses, but also understand their limitations.  SEPTA buses are new and clean, but the killer is the infrequent schedule.  Given how few people I see actually riding the local SEPTA buses, I can understand any reluctance to schedule more.  It’s a classic problem in promoting alternative transportation.

The train—meaning the Norristown line up the Schuylkill—has a similar problem; it doesn’t run very often.  Still, many people live close to the tracks in Conshohocken and Spring Mill, and that makes it a short (and comfortable) ride.  Those of you who live anywhere near the line would enjoy a quick trip and avoid a lot of hassle (not to mention not crowding the roads).

But how about the trolley?  I’m referring to the SEPTA Route 100 line, which has connected West Philadelphia and Norristown since 1912, when it was built by the Philadelphia and Western Company.  Riders to Norristown in the last century got off at the original P&W station above the corner of Main and Swede Streets.  Those riders, by the way, also came from the north, as far away as Allentown, on the connecting “Liberty Bell” route, until the line was closed in the early 1950s.  That line is long gone, but the P&W portion from Philadelphia still runs, using new trolleys (technically Light Rail Vehicles—LRVs—today) on an excellent, smooth track that winds its way through some of the Delaware Valley’s most scenic countryside.

From 69th St., the ride takes less than a half hour.  The Saturday evening show begins at 8PM, so if you catch the 6:40 PM trolley, you will arrive at the Transportation Center at 7:08.  That will give you ample time to walk the two blocks—checking out Arts Hill on your way—and arrive at Theater Horizon ready for the evening’s entertainment.  If you live anywhere near any of the stops on the line—Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Villanova, to mention only a few—your trip will take even less time, and you can leave even later.  If you live anywhere close to these stops, it’s hard to imagine that driving a car would get you there in any less time.  Besides, sitting comfortably on one of the Route 100 line’s new cars beats driving any time.

Had it up to here with snow (or rain)?  This is your opportunity to get out, enjoy some live entertainment, help children and do your part to promote alternate transportation.  The bottom line is, of course, that no matter how you arrive, you will love seeing a play at Theater Horizon; it’s a great location and setting.  Most important of all, you will be supporting a very worthy cause, and helping to build a lasting arts community in a town that gets a bad rap, often from people who would actually enjoy the trip and the experience, if they would just give it a chance.

“The 39 Steps” does not begin until May 15, but I recommend you order your tickets in advance.  It’s going to be popular!  In the meantime, don’t forget about the “Arts Hill Festival” this Saturday, May 3.  Admission is free, of course, so why not enjoy yourself and do good at the same time?