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Chuck Woodmansee and his wife Nancy enjoy thier meals at the Spitfire Grill on Airport Avenue on Tuesday afternoon. The restaurant, along with a handful of others, are participating in 'Stay to Play' a program by the Arts Commission that offers discounts to those who work in Santa Monica, encouraging them to stay in town after work. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — All work and no play can make for a long and boring commute home.

So why not stay a few hours?

The Santa Monica Arts Commission and Performing Arts Committee is encouraging the estimated 50,000 daily commuters to stick around a few hours after work, enjoying a light meal and catching a live performance through a new program that offers local workers discounted meals and entertainment.

“Come to Work, Stay to Play” was conceived by the commission last year to promote the local arts scene by targeting a population that usually doesn’t stay in the city beyond work hours, giving them an enjoyable alternative to sitting in traffic.

“The truth is if you leave Santa Monica at 5 (p.m.), you might as well leave at 7,” said Justin Yoffe, the cultural affairs supervisor with City Hall’s Cultural Affairs Division. “You might as well come and enjoy some great discounts.”

The program in its pilot phase has six participating restaurants — Buddha’s Belly, Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria, Locanda del Lago, Spitfire Grill, Typhoon and Wokcano — and four theaters — Highways Performance Space, Miles Memorial Playhouse, Ruskin Group Theater and Santa Monica Playhouse.

Starting next week, all will offer special discounts on each Thursday of October from 4-8 p.m., whether it’s 15 percent off the menu at Johnnie’s or $5 admission to a musical at the Santa Monica Playhouse. All the commuter needs to say is “stay to play” when making reservations.

“For some of the commuters over at the Water Garden, outside of going to their local cafe, they’ve never been into Santa Monica and come Downtown,” Yoffe said.

Yoffe added that he is reaching out to some of the major employers in the city to get the word out about the program, including MTV, Google and Santa Monica College.

Locanda del Lago, which is located on the Third Street Promenade, will offer pitchers of mojitos, margaritas and mai tais for $20, a discount from its regular price of $26. The restaurant will also serve its pizzas, which are normally priced at around $14, for $8.

“We see great potential for the clientele that keeps the door open during lunch but we don’t see as much during dinner,” Megan Sheehy, the general manager of Lago, said. “Hopefully this motivates them to stay in town, have a bit to eat, watch a show and walk on the promenade before getting straight in their car and going home.”

Highways, a theater inside the 18th Street Arts Center, will offer a series of workshops, starting with a “performance laboratory” that deals with somatic embodiment.

The opening workshop will be followed by an open dress rehearsal on Oct. 15 for a performance about Los Angeles garment history and will conclude on Oct. 29 with Highways’ annual observance of Dia De Los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead.

“We want to participate in all the cultural activity of our city so we can support their growth and ours at the same time,” Leo Garcia, the artistic director of Highways, said.

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