So we’ve had the look back at the 2010 theatrical year and, as we move in to 2011, what are our hopes for the New Year? Here’s a list of resolutions that one can only hope venues, producers and fellow theatregoers stick to in 2011.
In no particular order here are the pet hates from 2010 and hopes for 2011:
10) Booking fees
Now that over 50% of theatre tickets are booked online, perhaps it’s time for some venues to be more open and transparent with their booking fee policy. As the consumer is now effectively using self service, can booking fees, service charge, handling charges, postage and packing and – as one venue puts it – convenience fees be justified or are they just a revenue boosting stream?
9) Premium Seating
A trend that started a few years ago that, at the time, offered best seats, a programme and a glass of cheap plonk for a premium. The programme and plonk have now vanished and large chunks of the auditorium are now classed as premium seating with prices to make a dent in the platinum credit cards. Again time for some transparency; if your top price is £90, have the bravery to say so rather than publish £60 and then charge extra for ‘premium’ seating. And is the end seat in the back rows of the stalls really ‘premium’?
We’ve all seen the phrase on the back of tickets ‘late-comers will not be admitted to a suitable break in the performance’. Unfortunately many theatres seem to ignore their own warning, letting in a constant stream of people after curtain up. And, yes, Sod’s Law prescribes that these people will of course be sat in the middle of the front row. Time for front of house staff to start managing late-comers effectively.
7) Sweets and food in the auditorium
It may be the influence of cinema, but sitting in many theatres now resembles being in the middle of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Alongside the sweets (for some reason theatres seem happy to sell all manner of cellophane wrapped confectionary), crisps, sandwiches, popcorn and drinks. This year, fellow audience members have been partaking in more extreme culinary delights. This year saw (and smelt) theatre goers munching though a McDonalds, chips and a flask of soup in the auditorium.
6) Mobile Phones
Much like the late comer warning we’ve all seen or heard the announcements asking us to check mobile phones are turned off. Its not just ringtones going off mid show that causes problems today it’s the blue glow of screens in a darkened auditorium as people check their texts, twitter and other apps mid show. Are we that sad that we can’t live without outside communication for a couple of hours?
5) Actors, directors, venues etc who only want positive reviews
Let’s face it, we all want praise and nobody really likes criticism, however constructive it is. However, let’s also face reality. Not everything that makes it onto a stage can be a five star rave. Some things work and some, while they may have the best of intentions, just don’t quite hit the spot. Yes it is subjective but if you stage a show you need to take the risk that some people, critics and bloggers included, may not like it. The fact that it’s a) a work in progress, b) amateurs, c) children, d) a preview or any other variation should be reflected in the review but isn’t an automatic upgrade to a rave review. Read the comments on what does and doesn’t work and learn from them to make your next show better. Just sending abusive messages to the critic over why your show was better than reviewed suggests isn’t going to help grow your audience.
4) Membership schemes
In these times of arts funding cuts it’s great to be able to support your favourite venue. Perhaps membership schemes are not purely altruistic. The attraction of many schemes is the benefits they offer. Priority booking, ticket discounts, regular newsletters etc all appeal but if you offer perks make sure your infrastructure can cope. How many times this year have online bookings crashed during priority booking, phone lines jammed or staff not sure of how to apply benefits. Sadly it’s a competitive marketplace as venues compete for loyal customers and, if you annoy your loyal ‘friend’, this year will they renew their membership in 2011?
3) Theatre Staff
There are many theatres whose staff makes visiting an absolute pleasure. The Young Vic, Sheffield Crucible and Trafalgar Studios, for example, all have welcoming staff who are great ambassadors for their venues. Sadly many other theatres this year seem to have lost their customer focus. Box Office staff who grunt at you, front of house staff who don’t direct you to your seat and bar staff who seem more intent on chatting to each other than serving customers. In these cash-strapped times many venues are turning to volunteer front of house staff and, while its great to encourage community involvement, the venues do need to provide basic customer care training before unleashing the volunteers on the public. Having worked in various front of house roles I know that it’s a thankless task, dealing with a large amount of people in a short amount of time but lets bring some pride back into our venues and give a genuinely warm welcome to patrons.
Perhaps the influence of DVDs with director’s commentaries but 2010 seems to have seen a growing trend for audiences to loudly discuss every plot device during the show or ask what TV show the actor has been in. That’s just for plays – for musicals, it’s even worse. As the overture starts, talking becomes almost shouting as they struggle to hear each other over the orchestra. As soon as a familiar song appears, the talking turns into karaoke as they think we would rather hear the off key, out of time wailing rendition than the trained actor we’ve paid to see. Please, for 2011 leave the talking (and singing) for the way home.
1) Restricted views
Yes, many of our theatres may have been built in a different era of audience expectation, but the continuing trend in 2010 for venues and producers to omit to mention restricted views when booking is a worrying one. Production costs may have risen and runs become shorter, leaving less time to recoup outlay, but charging £40+ for a seat with a limited view of the action is nothing short of daylight robbery.
Sites such as Theatremonkey help those booking for West End productions to avoid some of the pitfalls but, for those on a budget, the three-way battle between cost, comfort and view has become more of a juggling act than ever. Though Victorian theatre buildings may shoulder some of the blame it is not purely older venues that suffer. Move away from traditional proscenium theatres into thrust or in the round staging and the issue of restricted views also causes issue. Now if customers are informed of restrictions before booking, and costs adjusted to reflect the obstruction, that’s a matter of consumer choice but charging high prices without that information is self defeating.