Last night I got to the Hygeinic Art Park early. I had reserved tickets to Willy's Cut and Shine, a play by Michael Bradford, being performed in the outdoor theater in downtown New London, and I wanted to sit close. Real close.
I have had reservations about seeing live theater in this outdoor space. While it is lovely, it is on Bank Street in New London, the main thoroughfare through the lower part of the city. Adding to my trepidation was the newly installed patio as part of the neighboring restaurant, The Buckley House. Word on the street was that the previous night the Buckley House had hosted a band and hearing the play in the Art Park was nearly impossible.
So I'm there early. About 7:15 for the 8:00 show. There are about 30 people ahead of me inside the park, so I think I can get close up. Not a chance. I walk up to the stage and every single table withing 20 feet of the stage has a marker taped to its top, "RESERVED."
No where had there been any indication in either the press or when I purchased my tickets that there would be some reserved seating and some not. I paid the same price for my tickets as the folks whose names were written on the best seats in the house, but I did not hve the connections necessary to score a good seat.
So, my 45 minute early ass was seated in the back row. As it turns out this vantage point, while I could see the play, I could only hear about 70% -- so I missed a good hunk of Act I.
As it turns out some of the RESERVED people never bothered to show up, and the hostess offered us their front row center table for viewing Act II. That made all the difference in the world. I was in the world of the play for Act II, and was grateful to get to hear at least some of my friend Michael Bradford's beautiful play.
The problem remains.
What is the deal with this culture of arts exclusion?
How and why does this happen?
I attend general seating events, and like our pioneering forefathers or iPhone enthusiasts, I show up early. So why oh why at so many theater events do I walk in with the first 20 people and find a sea of RESRVED seat holders spread across every good seat in the house?
I can understand when I go to a reading at a school or college that there are a few seats reserved for the faculty who will be grading the work or mentoring the student. I also understand a playwright reserving 2 or 3 seats for their parents. But past that, I cannot condone the reerving of 65 or 70% of the best seating for people in-the-know and leaving the rest of us art and theater loving schlepps on the periphery.
This is cultural elitism and I believe it should be struck down and left at the door for projects that claim to be a promoter of an egalitarian arts culture.
We delt with this problem alot during our summer season. Our reservations were generally due to handicap issues, as the majority of our audience was of the older variety. The problem was even more pronounced in a 90 seat black box, especially when we had advertised as open seating. It was a stiff place to be in wanting to remain hands off about seat reservations and still serving audience members who couldn't hear/get up the stairs/etc.
In fact, I recently sat next to an older couple that was forced to the back of the house with me (all of the center front sections had RESERVED papers on their seats), and the woman spent a lot of the play telling her husband what the actors had just said. Many people in the RESERVED seats in front of us turned to give piercing looks, but the couple wasn't chattering, she was just trying to let him know why everyone was laughing. It was unfortunate that this couple was unable to get a seat close to the action (although they arrived 30 minutes early to be there when the house opened just like I did.)
The reservation papers across the seats is really out of control in a lot of general seating theaters, and it's starting to get me cranky.
That is getting out of hand, and as much as I'm familiar with the pressure of impressing select individuals in the interest of longevity and all that roping off the entirety of the theatre's prime seating is more or less inexcuseable.