To wait, or not to wait, that is the question!
Sunday 21 January 2018
Etiquette - General - Points of view
Given the transport situation in London, should performances still start on time when a large chunk of the audience are missing because they're battling unforeseen delays on the tube?
I've been meaning to complete this bog post for some while - sorry for the delay, but the contents still have currency even if the events that inspired this post happened some time past ...
A few weeks ago, I was reviewing a matinee performance on a Sunday at a theatre near Earl's Court.
Like most Londoners, I am accustomed to checking the TFL website before I depart for a theatre to see how long my journey might take.
The task is more important at weekends when myriad teams of engineers are beavering away replacing tracks, signals and all the other accoutrements of the tube and rail system.
Upgrading work over the past decade and more has imposed a near nightmare existence for travellers in London at weekends, and bank holiday weekends are even worse because on these occasions the engineers appear to relish causing even more disruption, possibly with a degree of glee.
My investigations on the TFL website gave no cause for concern that day and showed no potential delays for my journey to Earl's Court.
As usual, I always plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of a show on the grounds that it is better to be safe than sorry, and also to give me time to read the programme and inhale some nicotine before the performance.
But once on the Victoria line at Highbury and Islington, things started to go awry.
The tube train sat motionless at the station for more than 10 minutes because of some occurrence further down the line.
When it got moving eventually we sped along and I was relatively unconcerned because I still had a buffer of over 20 minutes.
That was, though, in the words of Mark Twain, a 'delusion and a snare'.
On changing at Victoria for the district line, my way to the west bound platform was barred by a tape blocking the corridor and a TFL employee trying to deal with a large crowd of irate passengers unable to get to their platform.
In the end, I had to return on the Victoria line and catch the Piccadilly line to Earl's Court.
That meant a further delay of some 15 minutes, leaving me with about 5 or 6 to sprint from station to the theatre.
I made it to my seat in the theatre with about 30 seconds or so to spare before curtain-up time.
But the show didn't start for about another 15 minutes or so, maybe more.
Returning to the auditorium after the first interval, I noticed a woman talking with one of the theatre staff.
The woman was complaining about the late start.
Apparently, the performance was sold-out, but when I arrived in the theatre, some 25% of the seats were still empty.
And, by my rough count at least, the missing audience members didn't all appear later in the performance.
Now I'm generally in favour of shows starting at the advertised time - the fact is that it is a simple courtesy to people who are paying to see a show and have done their part in getting to the theatre on time.
But, of course, sometimes there are widespread transport delays which occur out of the blue - as with my journey outlined above.
So theatres can find themselves with a considerable dilemma on their hands when curtain-up time arrives and a sizeable chunk of the audience are not in their seats.
To wait, or not to wait, that is the question!
It's not an easy call.
Now I am not criticising the theatre's management or staff - I'm simply asking a question which has wider applicability given the unique issues with London's transport, especially on bank holiday weekends.
Some venues do allow latecomers to enter the auditorium at a suitable point in the show.
But the theatre I was visiting that day has a clear policy that latecomers cannot be admitted.
So, if the show had gone ahead on time, a significant proportion of the expected audience would have missed it.
Even after the delayed start time, the audience was still about 20% less than expected, and that indicates that the delayed start din't achieve very much.
Maybe, given the theatre's policy, some people turned round and went home, not bothering to complete their journey to the theatre.
Maybe some, didn't even start their journey!
Obviously, theatres want to be reasonable and to have the biggest audience they can for a show.
But audience members delayed on the transport network are not the only people who need to be considered.
What about the cast who might have other engagements to attend later the same day, or family they want to be with?
And what about the staff who have lives to live outside of their theatre duties?
And we shouldn't forget either the audience members who managed to fetch-up on time - what about them?
Overall, I think the only option for theatres is, quite simply, to start on time.
Sometimes, of course, they may be missing a cast member (or two) and that may mean they can't start on time.
But, thinking about the affects on all parties and barring any missing actors, I think the best option for theatres is to stick to their guns and start at the advertised time no matter what, as long as they make that policy plain to patrons on tickets and advertisements.
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