All The Kids Know It Is More Fun To Sit In the Back

There is a great illustration (in my mind as least) for why arts people need to value learning and be cognizant of what is happening elsewhere in a story out of Orlando. It seems the Orlando Opera Company and Orlando Ballet have decided to try to bump their subscribers out of the balcony and into the more expensive floor seats in an attempt to make that area look fuller and increase revenue.

The subscribers are none to happy and are resisting. Just like the subscribers at the Honolulu Symphony did when the balcony seating prices were both raised and that section closed until the floor section was filled. Just like the subscribers at the Boston Symphony Orchestra did when that organization increased balcony seating prices by 80% in one year. Both Honolulu and Boston backpedaled and admitted the increases were ill advised. I suspect the opera and ballet in Orlando may end up doing the same.

Fortunately, the Orlando Philharmonic hadn’t received the advice the opera and ballet did about changing the pricing structure or this entry would make it seem like orchestras were the only ones making this poor decision. Or at the very least, weren’t doing a good job presenting this new policy to their audiences. I am not sure there is a good way of making such a large change in one year’s time palatable without investing a whole lot of time and money in the campaign.

The Orlando Sentinel article mentions that the opera and ballet had received the results of a study. I wonder who did the study and how they came to the conclusion that subscribers would tolerate this in acceptable numbers. I could believe a study that found people would tolerate a price increase of X amount over what they are paying now. Likewise, I could foresee people grumbling but generally acceding to moving their seats to the floor for the same price if they were told it was a cost saving measure. (Don’t have to pay the ushers for the balconies, perhaps.) It would be a sneaky way to get people out of the seats and raise the prices the following season when you reopen the balcony due to demand. People would probably be rather angered at such a move when it emerged a couple years hence.

I would be rather incredulous at a study that found it would be productive to both displace subscribers and place them in a situation where they were paying more than the previous year. (If anyone knows of a case of the decision succeeding, I would love to know!) I would ask to see the research that back that up and if it didn’t include a fair sampling of my ticket purchasing base, I would be rather skeptical. In other words, I am wondering if they even talked to anyone in those seats. (Or researched how similar decisions played out.) I don’t expect any of them would have answered yes to a question that flat out asked if they would be willing to give up their seats so some extensive communication of the rationale would need to transpire. Which would be a pretty good opportunity to gauge the most effective way to communicate the rationale.

There are obviously too many factors of which I am unaware to make a real judgment about why the decision was made. I feel secure though in stating that their case doesn’t appear to have been communicated well.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “All The Kids Know It Is More Fun To Sit In the Back”

  1. This reminds me of somewhat similar situation in which an orchestra “bumped” approximately 30–40 subscribers from their long-held prime position at the front left of a first-level wrap-around balcony. This was done so that the orchestra’s VIPs (sponsors, mostly) could be sat together and in the location that gave out onto the part of the foyer that led directly to a private lounge. I’m not sure of the explanation that was given to the subscribers at the time, but subscribers are observant and canny people. The next season they could see who was sitting in “their” seats (it was a relatively small city of about 1mil, so at least some of the VIPs and badged orchestra executives would have been recognizable in a way that they might not in a bigger city) and they knew where the private sponsor lounge was located. Several years on those subscribers still harbored resentment about their treatment.

  2. Don’t forget about the wildly unsuccessful “Virtual Hall” concept attempted by the Utah Symphony & Opera last season. That actually drew spiteful letters to the editor from long-time subscribers who got bumped out of their balcony seats.


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