Doing It Alone: Reader Participation Edition

Okay dear readers, I need your help.

Buoyed by the amount of traffic and social media sharing on my “Talking to Strangers” post back in February and encouraged by the recent research finding that people underestimate how much they will enjoy doing things alone, I plan to work over the summer to develop a program to encourage single attendees .

If you recall from my Talking To Strangers post, I, (and I assume a bunch of the rest of you), was inspired by an effort in Brazil which reserved seats on buses for strangers who were interested in meeting new people. To facilitate the process, they had Post-It notes with suggested topics of conversation for participants to use.

Given that an NEA study said a significant impediment to event attendance respondents identified was the lack of someone to go with, I suggested a program similar to the one in Brazil might be helpful for arts organizations.

I had talked to my staff a couple months ago to get them brain storming, but I thought I would enlist readers’ to provide input as well. I figure this can be helpful to everyone, after all.

So here are some questions to consider:

-What are the guidelines for participation?

If you are setting aside special seats for the program, obviously people can’t buy two at once unless they are interested in sitting in two separate locations.

-How best to promote the program to explain it clearly without sounding condescending?

You don’t want to imply people are losers and have no friends–unless you can do it in such an amusing manner it endears people to your organization.

-What are good general conversation topics to use?

Obviously, each event lends itself to specific questions, but what consistent elements might you direct people to discuss?

Not just plot and composition of a piece, but for example, physical features of the theater you might want to draw attention to. For this program, it may be better to get people speculating about how the fresco on the ceiling was painted than to tell them outright.

-What is a good way to mount the questions on the back of seats?

This is a bit of a puzzler at the moment. It has to be durable enough that it doesn’t fall off as people brush going to and from their seats. It has to be removable since you may change the seats for the program from event to event or rent the facility to groups that don’t have a talk to strangers program.

But it can’t have metal hooks that will gouge into the back of the person sitting in the seat it is attached to. Magnets might work, but not everyone has seats with metal backs.

-What are logical extension to this program?

While I saw this as a way to remove a psychological barrier from a single ticket buyer who might otherwise decide to stay way, single subscribers may want to be paired with other single subscribers. You might hold an after performance events to help people solidify their new friendship. People who already attend frequently and with friends may want access to the conversation starter questions to join in the fun with their group.

All this would be great because it provides an opportunity to engage people in other ways.

What Else?

There are other factors to consider, but I throw these out to start people thinking.

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. (

I am currently the 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.


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3 thoughts on “Doing It Alone: Reader Participation Edition”

  1. In response to how to mount the questions on seats…We label our seats for subscribers by draping a purchased felt rectangle with a large pre-printed label on it. In our case we put the subscriber’s last name, but you could use the same idea to print questions. The felt rectangles are laid over the seat back and the felt keeps the square from moving around too much.

    • That isn’t a bad idea. If you take a look at the video of the Brazil bus program – , they use a stack of post-it notes so people can flip through different questions. I liked that basic approach but was trying to think of what to attach the stack of questions to. Felt is a good idea. I was just thinking that maybe a strip of velcro across the top of the felt might help keep it in place if the velcro will stick to the fabric on the chair in front. I will have to go test velcro on our seats.

  2. One ensemble I worked with in the UK 20 years ago included a half-page program insert (much cheaper than felt & velcro) headed “Ask” with just three sentences (I don’t remember the exact wording): “After the music has stopped, 1. Ask the person on your left what made them choose to attend this specific performance? 2. Ask the person on your right if there is anyone on stage they like to watch playing? 3. Ask both people on your left and your right what is the next concert they intend to attend?”
    I do remember some people would naturally gravitate to asking, answering, and even connecting Others would just stay quiet.


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