This Intermission Isn’t Big Enough For Bar And Bathroom Lines

Last month I made a post about the evolution of women’s restroom lounges resulting in a short, but interesting exchange about theater restroom facilities in Germany and Sweden.   Last week The Stage had the results of a survey of West End theater restrooms which further reinforced the fact that historical theaters have a tough time providing facilities to meet the usage habits of modern day audiences. (my emphasis)

At the 42 theatres counted, there is one toilet for every 26 people, with this number increasing to one toilet for every 38 female audience members – an indication of the under-provision of facilities for women.

At capacity, the average theatre would need a 57-minute interval – nearly three times the standard length of 20 minutes – to allow all women to go to the toilet, presuming each woman takes 90 seconds.

Note this is averaged across the 42 theatres. According to the article, “the Old Vic has just one toilet for every 56.7 women.”

They arrived at the gender specific ratios based on the finding in a 2010 survey that females comprise 68% of audiences and then applying that to the full attendance capacity of a venue.

I have no idea how they arrived at the 90 second standard for using the toilet.

Perhaps part of the problem isn’t insufficient number of toilets, it is that women aren’t as competitive as men when it comes to urinating. Put time clocks on stalls and offer discounts at the bar for finishing under 60 seconds, problem solved.

If you are planning an excursion to see shows in London, you might be better off at the National Theatre which has the best ratio of 13.3/person (180 toilets, by the way). The Royal Court and Royal Opera House hover just slightly behind that ratio.

Accessible and gender neutral facilities have worse numbers:

Another area in which theatres routinely under-perform is accessibility: 26 (62%) of the 42 theatres counted had just one disabled toilet, with two – the Ambassadors and Wyndham’s – offering no accessible toilets at all.

While most theatres cater for men and women separately, a handful, including the Royal Court, the NT and the ROH, offer gender-neutral facilities. The Royal Court is currently unique in that all of its toilet cubicles are gender neutral, meaning they are available to people of any gender.

I found that last sentence interesting because when I wrote last month about the evolution of restroom lounges, I noted that the very first public restrooms in the US were gender neutral because they were individual cubicles rather than the more communal arrangements we have today. The best approach for restrooms may be to go retro.  (I am not sure what the set up is at the Royal Court, but given that European restroom stalls tend to be enclosed floor to ceiling it is possible to offer individual gender neutral private cubicles without needing much more additional space.)

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.


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