It is all about the numbers

Jan. 09, 2015

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Seating is complicated.  

Years ago, I did a theatre space at a small community college, every seat was the same size, and hooked to the adjacent seat and the floor in the same way.  

As with everything else, technology has made theatre seating jump leaps and bounds. New seating vary slightly in width, from one seat to the next, in order to provide the best view for the sitter.  Occassionally, you have a wider than average patron, who used to suffer and attempting to sit on the aisle for a bit more space.  Now days, with the new seats and ticketing technology, they can request a wider seat that doesn't call attention to their size, because it is intermingled with the other seats.  Pretty cool!  Eye lines are computer-analyzed to attempt a clear view for everyone.

The distance between seating rows has changed also, due partly to plusher seats, but also to the 'growing' population.  This has brought up a problem at the Broadway.  The Balcony has tiers, that are 29" apart.  The seat layout designer has told me that the optimium distance is 33."  Another old to new challenge!

I have a lot of different newspaper articles that report the seating in the Broadway when it opened, and during special events.  None of them are the same.  The historian working on the National Register nomination has the number set around 1200.  Good enough for me.  We can not approach that number today.

Luckily, seating manufacturers will do a preliminary lay-out seating for a project, in hopes you will use their product.  I asked the manufacturer that I had previously used for a layout.  Today, I received a preliminary number along with a lot of questions.  

A lot of questions always comes with an old building. That is what makes it fun!  Ok, most would not appreciate the challenge that adapting the old building to a new purpose, but I do.  That challenge really applies to selecting a contractor, most would rather build new.  Advice from a historic architect, never use a contractor that has no old building experience if you have an old building project.  Square pegs do not fit in round holes.  Find one who loved the challenge as I do.  They are out there, and they will be more expensive at first, but they are worth their price, for their knowledge of what they might run into and how to avoid the problems and, more importantly, to avoid the headaches that the inexperienced contractor WILL run uncover, that you will eventually pay for twice.   But, expect them to be very busy!

Oops!  Got off the topic!  The new preliminary seat count, including the tighter than preferred balcony seat layout has 563 seats (plus 8 wheelchair spaces) on the main house floor, and 286 in the balcony for a total of 849 new seats, 857 with wheelchair spaces that could be filled with portable seating.  The designer reconfigured the seating arrangement to have an aisle beside the balcony column on each side of the center, added a cross aisle, and narrowed up the side aisles.  Glancing at the plan, we may be able to add an additional row in the front, if a few extra are needed.

Thanks to Irwin Seating, I now have a number to base the answer to the question of how many seats.  Seats equal revenue.  Seats equal show quality.  It is all about the numbers.


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    The current Broadway seating.
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    The Irwin Seating preliminary layout