When Going Out on the Town Becomes a Pain in the ….

by Suzanne Calvin

“The Stage,” a British publication devoted to…well, obviously…the theatre (with an ‘re’), has a rather interesting story of a marketing outfit that used focus groups to determine why London’s West End theaters are having such a hard time attracting and keeping audiences.  The essential reason is: pain.  It seems that tushes -- both foreign and domestic -- are decidedly uncomfortable in London’s antiquated facilities.

Lousy, uncomfortable seats…terrible legroom…interminable lines for the ladies room…Sound familiar?

While our move into the phenomenal Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts should end those complaints once and for all, I’m still curious to know: just how important is physical comfort to your overall opera experience?  Can a cramped seat overwhelm an otherwise terrific performance?

I’d love to hear your anecdotes.

(Image from sixthstreetmelodrama.com)

Suzanne Calvin, Assoc. Dir. of Marketing, The Dallas Opera

3 Responses to When Going Out on the Town Becomes a Pain in the ….

Karen Almond says: September 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

I took a tour of the Winspear last week with a friend of mine, Carol Allen, who is working on the project for Theatre Projects Consultants. She is a seating specialist who worked on the Meyerson 20 years ago, and now is working on the Winspear.
I tagged along during the seating inspection, which requires a warm body to sit in every seat in the house, while another consultant takes notes on anything that needs attention. The discussion was fascinating- with lots of emphasis on site lines. In fact, TPC influenced the project architect to slope the seating tiers from the highpoint in middle at the back of the house, downward to both sides at the front. This allows for better site lines on the sides, so that a person will not need to lean so far forward in their chair to see.
I even got to test drive the seats- covered in a dark gray suede like fabric, with ventilation holes for breathability. There was plenty of leg room, and a firm, yet comfortable feel to the cushions, with no leaning back like the seats at the Music Hall. We are in for a treat- with no distractions from uncomfortable seats in the new house!

Candice says: August 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Hard wooden or plastic chairs will leave me concentrating on shifting comfortable positions and distract me from the program. However, if you put lazy-boys out there… my husband WILL fall asleep. There has to be a happy medium.

I also agree with Gwen 100% on the sound issue though. With this audience, I can leave uncomfortable and distracted but still enjoying myself. If the sound is bad, really whats the point?

Interesting post.

Gwen Dixie says: July 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I was an opera season ticket holder for Houston Grand Opera for the years I lived there. If you ever dared to change your season tickets you were routinely given the most undesirable, unsaleable, seat in the house. That how I came to be seated in the crow’s nest. The seats were stacked on top of each other almost requiring a yoga pose to sit in. With my arm I reached across my husband’s back and put my hand around hairy flesh. In that quick way your mind works I wondered why his arm was bare. Then I realized I had my hand around and was feeling someone’s ankle. I looked back to see a tall, long legged man almost levitating from his seat right behind my husband.

Worse part was that my husband had just recognized and spoken to him; he was a business acquaintance. I always wondered if he thought an old lady was making a pass at him.

I learned that the best seat for me in Jones Hall was the last row on the first floor. I could lean in or out and not worry about anyone behind me. I also figet so I didn’t have to worry about inconveniencing anyone behind me.

I must say that I’ve put up with some bad seats in old theaters in London and New York and have occassionally requested a change when it was too broken down.

Comfort counts, but I also like that “hey, Mickey, let’s put on a show” feeling you get in second string theaters, or black box theaters. They’re not pretending to be anything they’re not and you don’t have to have a good seat to sit on every time. The one thing that will make me get up and leave is bad, or blurry sound. The Fair Park show of Dame Edna was terrible for that reason. I once heard part of a music concert in McFarland (SMU) that was so loud I left. They usually played in rock concerts venues and overwhelmed a small auditorium.

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