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.