The Plague-Ground – Would you buy the middle seat?

This week, William Shakespeare will be 456 years old.

We should care because the temple to his genius, the Stratford Festival, is in dire straits.

Stratford’s problem is shared by most every arena, concert hall and auditorium in the world.

It’s in the fixed seat business.

Until the pandemic, Stratford thrived or stumbled by the number of seats it filled, especially the 1,800 of them in its Festival Theatre. The same was true for its artists. Far easier to connect with a full-house than a half-empty one.

But now Stratford doesn’t need to fill all 1,800 of those seats. If it’s very lucky, its goal when it re-opens will be to sell 300 seats.

It’s likely that theatre-goers won’t be allowed to sit next to each other, or even one seat over. To comply with the two-metre guideline for social distancing, we’ll have to be at least two seats away from the next person. So, every third seat?

No, because the two-metre rule applies forward and back, as well as side to side.  So it’s also likely that only every other row of seats can be filled. This means that of Stratford’s 1,800 Festival Theatre seats, it will only be able to sell 300 of them.

Stratford is advertising tickets online to its Friday, October 23rd evening performance of Much Ado About Nothing at $42 to $182. But if it can only sell one-sixth of its 1,800 seats, the Festival will have to charge between $252 for the worst seat in the house to $1,093 for the best.

This assumes of course that Stratford’s government, corporate and individual support stays at pre-COVID levels and that its annual budget for this season (including the seven people who work behind the stage for everyone who performs on it) remains intact.

A mighty big bunch of assumptions. But the ticket price alone is enough to keep most anyone away.

Stratford’s problem reflects what every fixed-seat enterprise faces, and especially the airlines.

What airline is going to sell its middle seats anymore? Who would buy one?

And that coughing kid in the row behind? Maybe not. Two rows behind, possibly.

So, seat inventory on flights could be slashed by a similar ratio as theatre seats. If you paid $400 to fly from Toronto to Ottawa and back on February 1, would you pay $2,400 on August 1? Again, lots of variables will change this up or down, including seat sales, the price of fuel, the bailout terms from governments, and so on.

Let’s move on to hotels. True, their ‘seats’ are more than two metres apart. But look at it from the housekeeper’s perspective: before the pandemic you might clean a dozen rooms on a single shift. Now, because the hotel will practically have to certify that its rooms are sanitary, you might get four or five rooms done in the same time. You, too, will want some assurance which your newly-empowered union will demand on your behalf.

If you’re a property company, would you rather sell 10 condo units or 10 single-dwelling homes?

If you’re a medical practice, do you really need all those examining rooms when telemedicine can let you examine your patients “almost” as well as in person?

The more we start asking about anything that involves a fixed space next to other fixed spaces, the more catastrophic the future looks.

Until…….until a vaccine is discovered.

Then, 1,800 people can once again fill the Festival Theatre at Stratford.

But until then, we’ll just have to endure this plague in all our houses.

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12 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Would you buy the middle seat?”

  1. Insightful as usual Bob…to the point, I’d pay the $2,400 to get to self isolation back in Costa Rica right now,

  2. Daniel Gormley

    Excellent post Bob. But what about a law that says that we all have to wear a proper mask and gloves and that in fact any venue such as a theatre or a plane ( or any workplace ) has to make them available? Expensive, but cheaper than selling only 1 in 3 seats. And more practical than the test certificate schemes I’ve been hearing about, which are going to incentivize people to deliberately get infected…

  3. You have nailed the talk of the town here in Stratford, Bob. Not surprisingly the Festival community is holding its breath while making the best of a bad deal. On-line performances from bedrooms and back rooms are increasing and past Festival plays are being broadcast to the world. And construction of the new Tom Patterson Theatre has halted as the finishing touches were underway. Will it ever be the same? Keep ’em coming.

  4. To seat or not to seat. That is the question.
    And forget about seating as although it is foremost in my mind to see anything, live (besides my face in the mirror). I am desperate to visit with my two granddaughters and their parents. My gp this morning counseled I should wait another month.
    Along with WASH WASH WASH, those that can should GIVE GIVE GIVE, although giving alone will not resolve the issue of safety. Along with everything to do with our lives, seating and viewing and communicating has probably changed forever. Although, if you think about it, cycling or walking enables you to first hand, witness and experience life in a 360 degree way, as live culture (ie not on screen) and speaking face to face (as opposed to twitter, email and texting and zooming) is also preferred.

  5. We are likely to see significant progress in the coming weeks and months on effective therapeutics and/or other related treatments for the most seriously ill. There will also be, without doubt, an effective vaccine although not probably available until sometime in 2021. In the shorter term, the most obvious strategies for many public venues could involve some form of very rapid testing along with other protective measures, gloves, masks etc for all in attendance.. See for example what Emirates Airlines is doing… These are realistic additional measures somewhat akin to the additional protective measures that became part of global air travel post 9/11. We have incredibly well trained doctors and brilliant Canadian scientists working with their counterparts across the globe. We should all be very optimistic about.successfully defeating this global challenge. See you in Stratford in the fall!

  6. Not to mention all the art and live cultural shows scheduled that may never see the light of day. Many are caught in limbo because of this pause. We can only hope that, as you say, this vaccine comes and that patrons who love live cultural arts and live entertainment will once again support them. I know I will even if it means a middle seat!

    1. Jeff — Thanks for this. At your urging, I did check the Emirates site, and indeed they are way head of most everyone else.
      And yes, see you in Stratford in the Fall !



    2. Louise — I have to say, two weeks ago I was starved for ‘video content’. Now I’m awash in it! Time to get selective….

    3. Gary — Thanks for checking in…..we will see you in Stratford come the Fall, though not the summer, I fear.

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