At Least You Can Put Your Feet Up On The Seat In Front Of You

There has been a lot of conversation among my peers about how to revamp our venue seating charts to comply with social distancing. Some people were seating in every other row with 3-4 seats between every single person, the latter part which seemed crazy to me.

At my venue, we worked up a plan that skipped every other row and had four seats open and four seats blocked so that families could be seated together. We found a way to set our ticketing system so that if you bought two of four open seats, it would immediately block the adjacent open seats so strangers couldn’t buy the seats next to you.

I figured it would be a month or two before any state got to the point of allowing live performance events to occur.

To my surprise, someone already put this general model into action. I was reading a piece in San Francisco Classical Voice because it extensively quotes Adaptistration author Drew McManus when I came across this bit of information:

In fact, the first test of a live-concert in the U.S. was to have taken place May 18, with a socially-distanced performance by country singer Travis McCready at TempleLive in Fort Smith, Arkansas. However, on May 12 the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, announced the state’s health department would be issuing a cease-and-desist order for the concert due to the extension of the state’s coronavirus lockdown measures.

Had the concert proceeded, it would have taken place in a hall with a capacity of 1,100 reduced to 229. The audience would have had their temperatures taken when they arrived, been directed to their seats along one-way walkways, with a limit of 10 people in the bathroom at any one time. Seating would be in “pods,” defined as “small gatherings restricted to friends and relatives comfortable with sitting together.” Each group, between two and 12 in number, would be seated together while the rest of the audience sat six feet from one another other. In addition, the concert’s Ticketmaster page said TempleLive planned to sanitize the venue using fog sprayers and would require masks to be worn by the audience and staff. The three-member band would maintain social distancing onstage but had not planned to wear masks.

Even with these limitations, the concert was sold out. Would it have been a preview of coming attractions?

Other than feeling allowing up to twelve people who didn’t regularly live in close quarters to sit together might be problematic to efforts to control the spread, I sort of wish the concert could have happened so we could start to get some tips on traffic control through the different spaces.

Since I am clearly wrong in my assumption no one would be trying to do it yet, has anyone heard of any other instances where someone has actually executed a post-Covid revised seating plan?

Update: Thanks to reader Rachel Condie who pointed out that the concert in Ft. Smith did happen after the venue challenged the governor’s order as inconsistent with the standards applied to churches. A New York Times article provides the details of their audience flow process.

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.


1 thought on “At Least You Can Put Your Feet Up On The Seat In Front Of You”

  1. No performances here yet, but my sister reported going to a vocal recital where everyone brought their own chairs and sat across the street from the singer, with at least 6′ spacing between households. Of course, this was just a recital for friends, not a commercial transaction. She reported that the police did check out the event, but, seeing no infraction of the county or state rules, let the recital continue without interruption.


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