Thursday, June 07, 2012

How To Deal With Non-Traditional Theatregoers

           An ensemble are speaking to us. They share the lines. 
           Each new (capitalised) line is a new speaker.

How To Deal With Non-Traditional Theatregoers:
A practical guide for theatre staff.

Cultural sensitivity is important in a modern theatre
A theatre is – or ought to be - the hub of any community
As such, it should be an open and welcoming place for all members of that community
Remember that in the subsidised theatre sector, everyone’s taxes sustain the venues we have
So in a sense, we are all working on their behalf.

This practical guide is intended as a tool to help assist you in making our patron’s visit to us
As smooth and as enjoyable as it possibly can be.

Our theatre tries its best to programme a broad range of shows that will appeal to many different people
Some shows will attract some types of people, other shows will attract others.
We sometimes refer to these as ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ theatregoers.

‘Traditional’ theatregoers have considerable experience in coming to the theatre;
They have been doing it for some time
They know what to expect, and in turn, what is expected of them.

‘Traditional’ theatregoers have usually travelled in from areas like:
Chapel Allerton
And Meanwood.

This guide is not intended to cover audience members from these areas.

‘Non-traditional theatregoers’ tend to hail from other areas.
Little London
Richmond Hill
East End Park
Cross Green
Belle Isle
Gamble Hills
Basically, most of the rest of the city.

These visitors are of course welcome in our theatre.
This guide is intended to help you to help them in making the most of their evening out;
An evening of culture which will be an unfamiliar experience for many of them.

The first thing to bear in mind is the sorts of shows at which the percentage of ‘non-traditional theatregoers’ is likely to be higher than average.
Non-traditional theatregoers’ enjoy musicals
Christmas shows
Stand-up comedy
Contemporary dance (in the urban sense)
Sometimes known as ‘body-popping’
Or ‘popping and locking’.
They enjoy shows involving rhythm
Rapping (sometimes known as ‘MC-ing’)
Or any shows involving otherwise loud and repetitive noise.

Non-traditional theatregoers do not generally attend shows involving just actors talking
Though they can be tempted into the theatre if the talking is being done by a famous actor 
Or musician
Perhaps someone from a soap opera
Or who has won a television talent show.
They can occasionally be tempted in by shows involving extreme violence
Or repeated harsh profanities
Also known as ‘in-yer-face theatre’
Though it has to be said that even so, the unified outrage of most of the local newspapers is usually required before non-traditional theatregoers will book a ticket.

However, our theatre does not tend to programme shows of this nature;
What one gains in non-traditional theatregoers
One loses in traditional theatregoers
Who tend to stay away.

Non-traditional theatregoers will never attend:
Period dramas
Classics from ‘the canon’
Verse drama
Abstract drama
Or shows which otherwise eschew a clear and easy-to-follow linear narrative.

They come to see Shakespeare under one of only two circumstances:
One – if they have been obliged to come as part of a school group, college group, or DSS sponsored work scheme
Or two – if the entire play has been translated for them into ‘hip hop’
A form of fast-paced, rhythmic speaking with its roots in African-American culture.

Once inside the theatre, non-traditional theatregoers will behave in a variety of ways.

However, never forget that the mere fact that they have booked a ticket, and indeed turned up, is in itself a small victory that is to be welcomed.

Instances of non-traditional behaviour from non-traditional theatregoers can therefore be tolerated to a certain degree, before staff intervention is required.

Tolerable non-traditional behaviour might include:
Talking loudly in the theatre foyer
Not noticing the queuing system in place at the box office or bar
Calling out to one another across a considerable distance
Playing music aloud from their mobile phones or mp3 devices
And swearing (so long as it is only at one another)

Please note that the smoking of marijuana beyond the theatre doors is usually tolerated
As it can help to keep non-traditional patrons calm
And indeed is sometimes a key part of their culture.
Some might argue that it may even assist with their enjoyment of the show;
(Though this is of course not to be mentioned to West Yorkshire Police, whose building is conveniently located directly opposite.)
In the case of an arrest taking place, theatre staff are advised not to intervene.

As a general rule, traditional patrons are fairly tolerant of non-traditional patrons in the theatre foyer areas
Indeed, in some cases, our traditional patrons of a more liberal persuasion may even be pleased to see that they are in.
Staff intervention is only required in the case of non-traditional patrons becoming a risk to themselves or to the enjoyment of others.
Actions such as fighting
Threatened or actual violence
Breaking windows
Throwing glasses
Swinging from fixtures
Or defecating (outside of the designated toilet areas)
Are not to be tolerated under any circumstances.

If in doubt, please consult with your front-of-house manager, who is very experienced in dealing with non-traditional patrons.

Things are different, however, once inside the auditorium itself.
Here, even small actions
Which might be tolerated in the theatre foyer
Are liable to cause traditional patrons annoyance
Or even distress.

Such actions might include:
Rustling of sweet wrappers
Mobile phone rings
Speaking on the phone
Taking photos
Playing music
Standing up
Sitting down
Lying on the floor
Kicking the chair in front
Pacing about
Calling out
Or otherwise breaking wind, either audibly
Or inaudibly
But with a noticeable and offensive odour.

In all such instances, staff should not wait for complaints from traditional patrons
But should report such behaviour directly to the front of house manager
Who will take the decision on whether or not an intervention is warranted.

Should an intervention go ahead, it usually advisable to wait until interval to confront the offending party.
Staff will be led by the duty manager of the evening, and are advised to work in small groups of two or three;
Small enough not to escalate the situation
But large enough to deal with any outbreaks of fisticuffs which might occur.

Be polite
Stay calm
Stand with feet shoulder width apart
Legs and torso relaxed
But ready to spring into action if required
Explain to the non-traditional patron that their behaviour is unacceptable
Has been causing offence
Or distress
Repeat your point
Until you are sure it has been heard
Sometimes this can take seven or eight attempts.

If the situation becomes physical, please note that British law says that you cannot strike or otherwise make contact with the non-traditional patron unless they strike or make contact with you first
(An unfortunate state of affairs over which theatre management is actively lobbying our local MP and the Arts Council)
However, once a non-traditional patron does initiate contact then all bets are off
And you are henceforth legally permitted to defend yourself in whatever manner you deem proportionate and necessary.

This can include (but is not restricted to)
Arm locks
Head locks
Head butts
Or use of blunt implements.

Please note that the theatre will not back up staff who use sharp metal implements against non-traditional patrons
This includes forks, spoons and dinner knives from the theatre café.

Security are on hand should such a situation escalate into a full blown standoff with both sides armed with weapons
Makeshift or otherwise 
And box office staff have been briefed in requesting the assistance of the West Yorkshire Police
Whose offices are conveniently located just across the road.

In the event of large numbers of non-traditional patrons requiring ejection from the premises
Or indeed, the rare occasion of a show taking place in which the large majority of the audience is made up of non-traditional patrons
For example the filming of an episode of ‘X Factor’
Or a stand-up comedy performance by a popular but racist comedian
Theatre staff are advised to abandon the building en masse
And take shelter in the offices of West Yorkshire Police
(Which are conveniently located just across the road)
And to wait until further advised.

We hope that this guide has been useful, and will help you to welcome patrons of all backgrounds into our building.

In time, it is hoped that they will make the transition from non-traditional to traditional theatregoer
And become familiar faces
Season ticket holders
Perhaps even friends.

In such cases, you may even find yourselves laughing and joking with them
About the times when you had to forcibly escort them from the premises.

Such moments are to be cherished;
They are evidence of the transformative power of theatre
And the effect it can have on bringing patrons of all backgrounds
As a community.

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