Footlights Blog

Now You See It...Now You Don't

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Intrepid theatergoers, we move our unceasing inquiry into the mystery of seeing a show to the question of actually seeing a show—as fully as the playwright meant it to be. Sometimes finding a seat is the solution to a problem you didn’t expect to get—poor sightlines or a blocked view.


Obstructed perspectives, rows of seats that are insufficiently raked to prevent someone’s head from shrinking the stage you see, seats so far to the side that you can see the actors waiting in the wings, seats so peaked that you get nosebleeds (try the upper levels of the Auditorium Theatre), or playgoers who like to bounce and jerk to invisible beats or whisper to their companions—these create (non)sightlines from hell. Unless you brought you own elevation pillow, you’re in temporary trouble.


Sometimes it’s as simple (but maddening) as a poorly designed theater where the seats aren’t staggered so you can see between the people before you. (The mainstage of Chicago’s Civic Opera House is notorious for this inconvenience but the balconies are better.) You lean even further out when the person in front leans even a little--until it just looks like a bad vaudeville act.


Sometimes a pillar or post can impede your view, all but forcing you to resort to standing room only. Happily, the ticket is usually discounted because of the blockage. (I accidentally bought such a seat at the Residenz Teater in Munich, but my fellow theatergoers took pity on me and leaned enough so I could actually see the stage. (Good Germans come in all forms.)


Of course, no design can prevent a really tall person from perching in front of you and throwing off every sightline calculation meant to provide an unbroken panorama. You can only hope that years of altitude sickness have induced that person to slouch in his seat and let the little people catch glimpses of the show they paid for.


Then there are those temporary disruptions, like latecomers blocking the view or premature departures. But this column has covered these menaces well enough…


I should also include my pet peeve (since I have a terrible right knee)-- seats where you can’t fully extend your legs. I was in raw pain at a concrete bunker theater in San Jose—so, when I saw someone in my row getting up to leave, I got up much earlier than necessary to let this wonderful benefactor pass and lingered a bit longer to enjoy the cessation of pain. (Call it a medical emergency brought on by an inhumane auditorium…) Normally, of course, I would curse such an interruption but this was just what the doctor ordered.


Finally, there’s one theater on Southport Avenue (the Athenaeum is aware of the problem) whose rows must have been designed by a misanthropic dwarf. The only comfortable seats are in the first row.


And the view is terrific too—with nobody to interfere with a clean line of vision.

Please share any such theatrical war stories about bad seats or worse seatmates. Larry IS listening.


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