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Going To The Theatre Is A Social Experience

November 29, 2007

The other day, I heard a story about a longtime A.C.T subscriber who, as part of a theatre-going group consisting of about ten friends, had enjoyed going to see productions at ACT. Let's call her Jane. For Jane, going to the theatre is as much about being with her theatre-loving friends as it is about experiencing a play.

A few weeks ago, however, A.C.T's subscriptions department suddenly decided to change Jane's group's subscription package. Instead of getting their regular seats, they were all spread out and given seats in various parts of the orchestra. No longer could they all sit together, as they had been doing for many years. Jane and her cohorts were pretty upset about this.

The reason I bring this up is because industry people sometimes forget that there's a social dimension to going to the theatre. I'm not just talking about people bookending a show with drinks or going out to dinner. The actual experience of sitting in the auditorium watching a play, opera, musical or dance performance unfold is inherently social. There's communication going on between the performers and the audience of course, but there's also that more elusive relationship between groups of people within an auditorium.

It's always fun to make new friends. I, for one, often strike up conversations with complete strangers just before the lights go down or during intermission. But if I'm at the theatre with friends, I'd always rather sit next to them. I want to be able to lean over to them and say "wow, that was a weird moment" or "what a great scene" or "get me out of here."

I think there's more that goes on between social groups sitting within auditoriums than meets the eye. Rather than splitting people up like a group of bored schoolchildren giggling and exchanging notes a particularly bad Summerstock production of Julius Caesar, producers should make an effort to nurture group dynamics. After all, when one member of a group gets up to give a standing ovation, the rest are more likely to follow.

Jane and her gang are seriously thinking of canceling their group subscription at A.C.T. How many more subscribers can that particular company afford to lose?


  • Great post. It reminded me of a piece by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune on the new Guthrie and what lessons it holds for other large arts organizations:

    Chris doesn't include "Don't piss off longtime subscribers" in his list of suggestions. Somehow, that would seem to go without saying, particularly in an era of declining subscriptions overall.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 29, 2007 at 7:01 PM  

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