July 12, 2010
Theatre Projects' study Size Matters: How a growing American audience affects the size and cost of performing arts space was a featured source for the Wall Street Journal.
Excerpt from the Playing to Plumper Audiences article:"A study to be released Monday by Theatre Projects Consultants, a theater-development firm, found that the average standard width of seats in performing-arts theaters has expanded from 21 to 22 inches over the last two decades, 'primarily due' to the concurrent rise in obesity. Over the course of the entire last century, the average width increased from 19 to 21 inches.
'It's about weight,' one of the authors, John Coyne, said. 'Americans have gotten taller and heavier, and as expectations for accessibility, comfort, and amenities have changed, seat spacing and auditorium size has increased,' according to the report, which is based on data from the company's work on more than 1,200 performing-arts facilities around the world. (The firm's current New York projects include performance venues at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Theatre for a New Audience's development in Brooklyn and the theater planned for the Whitney Museum of American Art's new building at the base of the High Line.)"
Americans are getting bigger. Americans have grown dramatically over the last 100 years and the increase in weight is accelerating. Average height has increased by 5 inches (8%) over 100 years. According to data collected by the CDC, the average adult weight increased more than 24 pounds (15%) between 1960 and 2000.
Seat spacing has increased as body size has increased. Chair width and leg room have expanded to accommodate the larger size of American theatre-goers. From 1900 to 1990, the standard seat width increased from 19 to 21 inches. Chair width continues to increase at an accelerated pace. In just 20 years since 1990, the average seat width has grown from 21 to 22 inches. Row spacing has also increased.
Seating density has decreased by 50%. Seating density has halved in the past 110 years. The floor area that held 20 seats in 1900, and 13 seats in 1990, today holds 10 seats.
Capital costs are rising. Modern auditoriums hold half the number of patrons as an auditorium of equal size built a century ago. Since 1990, the size and cost of auditoriums have grown almost 30%.
The cheap seat is disappearing. The decrease in seating density and higher operating costs has put pressure on operators' economic models. The ratio of highest-to-lowest ticket price has flattened since the early 1900s from 6:1 ($1.50 — 25 cents) to 2:1 today ($120 — $65). And many fewer seats are offered at the lower prices today.
Audience comfort must be balanced against engagement. As increased personal space, accessibility and amenities have become standard, theatres must pay careful attention to the relationship between comfort and attentiveness/engagement, which is critical to the success of live performance.