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On Curtain Calls and Cocktails

June 18, 2008

I've long been campaigning for the appearance of more bars and cafes in performing arts spaces in the US. Seems to me that venues should be doing everything they can to get audiences and performers mingling and interacting and discussing the work and its connection to the world at large. One of the best ways of doing this is by giving people a congenial place to meet, eat and drink. Booze, of course, is the best lubricant for chat.

I also think it's important for venue managers to let patrons bring drinks into the performance space. People shouldn't have to gulp their drinks down before they take their seats. They should be able to enjoy a quiet sip in the dark as they experience a show if they want to. As long as the drinking isn't noisy or otherwise distracting to the actors, then I think it can greatly enhance audience members' enjoyment of the theatrical experience. If it works for outdoor theatres, then why not let indoor theatres follow suit?

Small venues, flying under the radar as they do and armed with a less stringent rules about getting wine stains out of plush carpets, have spearheaded the theatre bar and drinks-during-the-performance movement. Larger spaces have been more reluctant to jump on board.

Yesterday evening, however, I was surprised and extremely pleased to arrive at American Conservatory Theater's main venue, The Geary Theatre, for a performance of 'Tis Pity she's a Whore, to find a billboard announcing that the company now permits drinks to be brought inside the auditorium.

According to Janette Gallegos, ACT's spokesperson, the company has been toying with the idea of in-theatre drinking for a while as a way to facilitate dialogue and improve the show-going experience. The experiment began with the ACT's last production - Curse of the Starving Class (which I didn't get to see) - and feedback, Gallegos says, has mostly been positive. "A couple of people complained about being distracted by the noise of swirling ice-cubes, so we may end up nixing drinks with ice in them in future. But otherwise people seem happy. It's an evening out after all and trying to go to the restroom and gulp down a cocktail during a 15-minute intermission can be challenging."

I was always under the impression that theatre companies had resisted allowing patrons to bring drinks inside the theatre for licensing reasons. Someone once told me that a theatre company needs to get a nightclub license in order to allow alcohol to penetrate the inner sanctum of the performance space. But at least as far as ACT is concerned, no extra permits and licenses were required. The only additional burdens on the company are the extra cleaning and maintenance costs associated with allowing people to bring plastic cups full of drinks into the arena. So far, according to Gallegos, people have been very careful to bring out their trash and throw it away.

I hope The Geary Stage keeps up this experiment and that more performing arts spaces follow suit. Meanwhile, ACT is becoming more imaginative with its concession agenda: Next season, patrons might get to lick ice-cream cones through plays by Tom Stoppard and John Guare.


  • Right on Queenie,

    Or snort heroin whilst dining on Miguel Pinero. Yes, let's bring dionysus back. We can bear-bait the president during intermission, and eat his flesh in the second act. Joints all around.

    If you really want someone other than your friends, family, and peers to see your work. Make it a fucking party. Give them wings.


    Mr. Stick

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At June 22, 2008 at 11:49 AM  

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