First, she waited for her food for 45 minutes at the restaurant. Seems they lost her order. Once it was delivered, she bolted her food. Then she and her daughter rushed to the car and sped through town to get to the theater. Finally, at two minutes before 8, she pulled up to the parking garage, but was told it was full. She circled a nearby lot a couple of times and finally found a spot at the far end. The pair raced to the theater in heels, but it was too late. The performance had already begun.
Her frustration mounted when she was told that she would not be allowed in until after the first 15 minutes. She became angry when she was told that she would not be seated in the center orchestra seats her daughter gave her as a birthday present until after intermission.
Poor Alice, right? She really tried to make it on time. Why can’t we just usher her to her seats?
Would you let her in? If so, how do you explain to the other 2,000 patrons who arrived on time that Alice deserves to be let in late, that getting her to her seats is a valid disruption, that being late wasn’t her fault?
Thelma Domenici might not have much sympathy for Alice. She stated in an Albuquerque Journal column on July 3 that if “you do arrive late, you should fully expect to stand in the back until the intermission.” (Never mind that standing in back violates fire codes.) Ms. Domenici published her remarks because someone wrote to ask her opinion of those who arrive late to Popejoy performances and our way of handling them.
Different theaters have different ways of dealing with the inevitable latecomers. Brooklyn Center in New York has a designated “late seating” area. So does the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, Virginia. The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago emphatically states they have a no-late-seating policy, then confuses the issue by stating “Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of the management.”
Latecomers create problems of all kinds for Popejoy’s house managers. Because our touring shows set our late-seating policies — sometimes by contract — we have to execute different policies on different nights. Even within the run of the same show, we might have different circumstances. Is Alice arriving at Popejoy for a sold-out Friday night performance or a Sunday night performance that is not sold out? Instructed by a show to seat latecomers after the first 15 minutes, we can seat Alice at the back of the house in unsold seats on Sunday night, but if her tickets are for Friday night, we have no unsold seats. We have to put her in her seats, regardless of the disruption.
There are certainly those who say we shouldn’t seat Alice until intermission, no matter what. Everybody else arrived on time; Alice should have, too. They suggest — sometimes demand — that we offer an inflexible rule of keeping the doors closed until intermission. Until they hear Alice’s story. Then they begin to feel sympathy for poor Alice and want to help her. But what if Alice lied? And how would you know?
Certainly I’m not suggesting a solution, or that a solution is easy to come by. I’m only trying to characterize the complexity of the issue, and ask you: what would you do?
Terry S. Davis