Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Something is rotten


Several months ago D and I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at a regional theatre. I ordered the tickets online and, as is my practice, was careful to opt out of further email from the theatre. Nonetheless, a few days after the production, I received an email (!) soliciting my feedback about our experience. Here is my response (slightly edited and expanded).



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When I purchased tickets online, I was given an option about whether I wanted to receive email from Hartford Stage. I chose NO. The fact that you sent this email anyway is very telling; why would you offer a choice, then violate the implied promise? However, since you are now here in my inbox despite my request that you not be, I will be generous with my feedback about our experience.

I can't afford to go to the theatre often; perhaps once every few years. We love Shakespeare, and this was a special treat. The production was fine; so good, in fact, that despite the fact that we could not really afford it, we attended twice, and on our second visit we even brought two family members.

We appreciated the mostly fine acting, the interesting direction, and the superb lighting. Costumes - meh.

We were satisfied with the artistic presentation.

We were dissatisfied with the overall experience.

I understand why theaters, concert halls, etc., allow drinks and food in during performance; it’s an easy way to make a little money, of course, ($7 for three ounces of wine?), though I expect the real reason is to attract a different audience who is accustomed to more informal entertainment and who expects the same sort of experience at a theatre or orchestra performance that have come to enjoy at the cinema.

For those of us who do not want to hear, smell, or be distracted by slurping, crackling, chewing members of the audience, I wish that performance venues would segregate the audience into sections for those who wish to eat and drink, and those who wish to attend to the performance. When you allow anyone in the audience to take food and drink into the theatre, you force the experience on everyone, because we are all jammed in there together in assigned seats.

On the first night we attended, a quiet monologue was ruined by the crackling food wrapper sounds emanating from further down the row, plus the smell of the food, and the sound of it being crunched and chewed. Not to mention the person across the aisle, about six feet away from me, whose texting was a visual distraction throughout the performance, despite a house policy that prohibits this behavior. The subtle lighting onstage, so carefully crafted by the lighting designer, was upstaged by the glowing IPhone. Where are the ushers??

During the second night we attended the play, I was distracted for many, many minutes by the person who sat directly in front of me. Her entire concentration was on trying to balance her very full cup of wine while negotiating getting her coat on or off or whatever. She held the swaying, nearly-spilling cup high right in my field of view, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and up and down and OMG is she going to spill it!? while she struggled with the coat on her other arm. Eventually she put the cup on the floor, and from the sounds I heard ("OH SHIT"), I'm guessing she kicked it over. Nice surprise for the other guests whose feet or wraps got wet. Glad I was upstream.

This is not the experience I expect when I have paid $80+ per seat. I am paying to see a special performance and I want to be able to concentrate on seeing and hearing what is happening on the stage. When food, drink, and annoying texting is what I remember about my evening at the Hartford Stage, then something is rotten...

We spent about $500 on these two nights, and I wish I could have had a 100% satisfactory experience. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that your patrons come away with a good impression?

tl;dr: Food and drink in the audience are a huge, annoying, unpleasant distraction. It's a nice choice for those who like to eat and drink in the theater, but it is an unwelcome, ***inescapable imposition*** on everyone else. Please re-consider your food and drink policy.

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I’m beginning to think that when I plan a trip to the symphony or theatre, I’ll have to start checking to see what the food and drink policies are; I’m less likely to attend when I can’t enjoy the performance without distractions.

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