Sometimes You Can Renovate Your Way Out Of An Audience

So as much as we may think that we need to find new strategies and tactics to engage with audiences, a lot of times we are reinventing or rediscovering approaches that were ignored in favor of the newest theories on audience development/marketing. For a few years now I have been talking about the importance of letting people see themselves in the programming, audience, etc.

The theater I am currently running celebrated its centennial in 2020 (so the real party happened in 2022 as Covid restrictions abated.) An historic booklet was put together with an array of news articles, pictures, etc celebrating the theater’s early existence as a movie and vaudeville house.

One section talks about one of the renovations and quotes the manager who has become something of a local icon.

“Surprisingly, attendance dropped after the remodel.

According to Ted Thompson, ‘…we made it so fancy the farm boys and other workers who came in their overalls on Friday and Saturday for the western movies, quit.  When it finally dawned on me what was happening, we filled the lobby with baled hay, dressed the usherettes in gingham dresses and me in Levis and everything was o.k again.”

If you hadn’t surmised from the references to usherettes in gingham dresses, this was quite a few years back –in 1941.

While it might have been a bit more difficult to get into town to see movies back then, it still says something that attendance dropped due to installation of a new carpet and art deco design choices given that movie theaters were much more central to entertainment, news and social life at the time.

It seems to be a pretty strong testament to how physical surroundings can make people feel that a place isn’t for them. These are people who had presumably attended movies at the theater before and felt welcome. Westerns were still being shown on Friday and Saturdays to serve them as an audience, just like before. But the environment shifted and felt too refined for their comfort, so they stopped coming.

Unisex Restrooms Look A Little More Attractive When You’re Waiting On A Long Line

A couple weeks ago, Rainer Glaap posted a link to a news story about people in Germany advocating for unisex restrooms.  It wasn’t so much about wanting to provide spaces for people identifying with differing genders, but because the lines for the women’s room at public events are too dang long! (Article in German so you’ll have to run it through a translator if you browser doesn’t have one built in)

The waiting women agree: “It’s annoying, but what do you want to do? Well, you could make unisex toilets,” says one. “It’s not just at concerts – the women’s toilet is always full,” says another. “Personally, it wouldn’t bother me if everyone used one toilet because I notice that it’s quicker, especially in men’s toilets, and I think: Why can’t I just go to the other one?” asks another.


If women didn’t always have to go past the urinals, many people in the queue would simply go to where something was free anyway. “As far as I’m concerned, you could just have gender-neutral, shared toilets. That would be fine for me,” says a waiting woman, or: “We’ve already gone into the men’s toilet. What are we left with? A solution would be more toilets.” “I would also like unisex toilets, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

Other than the obvious observation that this issue seems to be near universal since I have posted similar stories from England as well as a history of women’s lounges, what was somewhat interesting about this story was the suggestion that the number of restrooms is limited to the official regulations for insurance reasons.

According to the regulation, for example, there must be twelve toilets for 1,000 women. However, eight toilets and twelve urinals are required for 1,000 men. So there are more sanitary installations for men in the same space.


Meeting places such as theaters or concert halls are free to build more toilets than required, but for insurance reasons they always build as closely as possible to the DIN standard and the regulation, says Illing-Moritz. The building regulations therefore urgently need to be adapted. It has long been scientifically proven that women have a greater need for toilets. With the third gender category “diverse”, an adjustment would also be needed there.

I am not quite sure what sort of hazard a venue might be flirting with by adding more toilets. I am sure many attendees would suggest there is a greater risk associated with not being able to get to a stall in a timely manner. The article also notes that people spend so much time standing online, they don’t have an opportunity to buy drinks and other things which would enhance revenue.

I would also observe that there is an increased chance these days that people will observe it is a lot easier to get into their restroom at home and stay there instead of venturing out to a performance venue. So if the opportunity presents itself to add some more accommodations to restrooms, some venues may decide it outweighs whatever issues insurance might present.

Frank Lloyd Wright Didn’t Want A/C In Dallas Theater He Designed

I came across an interesting story about the only theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The 400 seat Kalita Humphreys Theater, constructed in 1959,  is one of the Dallas Theater Center‘s spaces, apparently one they primarily used prior to the 2009 completion of Dee & Charles Wyly Theater about two miles away.   The Kalita, as it is referred to in the story, is in need of some major repairs, many of which are outlined in the story.

The parts of the article which are most interesting to me are the influences, both good and bad, the famed architect had on the space. Tommie Ethington, who wrote the piece marvels at the intimacy of the space where you no more than 13 rows from the stage and the optical illusions created by windows, lack of right angles, and curve of the stairs.

Wright’s vision:

It involved eschewing the traditional setup, with a proscenium stage—in which audiences stare straight ahead with a single, framed view—and instead creating a circular, revolving stage that joined the actors and audience in a more unified space.

However, his vision was not always conducive to easily operating a theater. Wright would apparently have rather have staff move things by hand and audiences sweat than to install elevators and A/C.

Wright wanted windows at the back of the auditorium, but Baker worried they would interfere with stage lighting. Wright vehemently opposed a freight elevator, insisting that sets and props be wheeled up subterranean ramps (an elevator was secretly installed without Wright’s knowledge). Wright even went so far as to suggest no air-conditioning, a thought immediately dismissed by Texans who knew better.

According to his daughter Robyn Flatt, the first time Baker saw the plans for the theater, he told Wright they simply would not work. “Wright was furious,” she says. “He threw my dad out of [Wright’s home] Taliesin West and told him he could walk back to town.”

The city of Dallas technically owns the Kalita so funding for renovations will require their involvement to some extent. Political will is also involved in other respects in the form of Texas’ Drag Ban which is both noted in this article and in a Washington Post article that suggests Dallas Theater Center’s makes the mounting of the Rocky Horror Show at The Kalita a political act.

The Bell Works, But It Needs You

A couple weeks ago, I caught a story on NPR about a temporary monument exhibit that has been placed on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  While a little more permanent than a pop-up exhibit, it is only meant to appear on the Mall for a limited time.   The project, Beyond Granite, was initiated by Monument Lab which commissioned six artists “.…to think about histories that haven’t been commemorated by the Mall and to look to moments when the Mall was charged by people, not statues.”

One of the pieces is a playground inspired by a picture of a Baltimore playground taken a few days after it was segregated showing black and white children playing together. Young visitors are able to play on the equipment which comprises the piece.

Another is a piece commemorating Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter Day concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after she was prohibited from performing in Constitution Hall because she was Black.

The piece that caught my ear was “Let Freedom Ring,” that plays “My Country Tis of Thee,” a song Anderson sang in her concert. The installation plays all but the last note leaving a bystander to step forward and pull a lever to complete the song.

“The piece is simply saying, America is not America without you as an active citizen,” Ramírez Jonas says. “It needs you in some way.”

Doing a little more research, I discovered the sculptor, Paul Ramírez Jonas, is chair of the Art Department at Cornell University. An article on Cornell’s website provided more information on the philosophy behind the piece and the bystander’s role.

Before participants pull the lever to ring the last bell measuring more than two feet tall and wide, Ramírez Jonas asks them to declare why they are doing it: Are they celebrating “freedom to” do something, or “freedom from” something? They can preserve their choice in a graphite rubbing of one of those two prompts, inscribed on opposite sides of the bell.

“I’m not telling you what your idea of freedom is,” Ramírez Jonas said. “I’m just suggesting that there’s flexibility, that there’s room for inserting yourself.”

Another inscription shows the song’s first verse with selected words missing, inviting participants to modify the lyrics – as Anderson did when she sang “our country” instead of “my country,” and “we sing” instead of “I sing.”

The process of “pulling together,” Ramírez Jonas said, occurs through awareness of others’ expressions of freedom and a sense of collective responsibility. Reflecting a bias toward optimism, Ramírez Jonas said, he never contemplated a design that might have rendered “America” unable to be completed.

“The bell works,” he said, “but it needs you.”

Reading a Bloomberg article on the project, I became aware of another piece by Wendy Red Star, an Apsáalooke (Crow) artist. It features an enlarged version of the artist’s thumbprint encased in glass and outlined in red soil. The names of 50 Crow leaders who signed agreements with the US government, often by using their thumbprints. The name of the piece, “The Soil You See…” comes from the words of one of the few survivors of Battle of Little Bighorn

“The soil you see is not ordinary soil — it is the dust of the blood, the flesh and bones of our ancestors. . . . You will have to dig down through the surface before you can find nature’s earth as the upper portion is Crow.”