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Grand Performances: Too Full, Go Home

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, June 26, 2006, at 10:45AM
Grand Performances -- An Inconvenient Truth Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Saturday saw what was almost certainly the most crowded Grand Performances in the program's twenty year history, as Al Gore and Bon Jovi joined Jan Perry, Bill Rosendahl and Mayor Antonio in presenting An Inconvenient Truth. Ironically it was pretty chilly out; Russell Brown was joking that we were going to have to wipe the ice off to talk about global warming.

We arrived a little before 6:30 (for an 8pm start) and already the situation was messy. As we got closer to time it became very clear that we weren't going to be able to sit and still see, and we ended up leaving as the film started. We weren't the only ones.

What the night quickly illustrated is that Grand Performances needs to develop a plan for continuing growth. Lack of capacity creates a situation where some are able to enjoy the night, but many others are frustrated and sent home.

The watercourt is a great venue for Grand Performances. That said, it's a venue with a fairly hard limit on seating, particularly on nights like this where you need to see. A concert has a lot more lee-way -- you can enjoy the music without seeing it. But when you've got a screen showing a film you really do need to have it visible.

Grand Performances -- An Inconvenient Truth On the balcony you have three or so rows of built-in bench and then space behind where people set up seats. Since the ground is flat, though, those people setting up seats don't have much of a shot of seeing over the people in front of them. Compounding this problem is the screen placement -- it sits low to the stage, meaning that it's straight out from the balcony.

Additionally, the screen lowers capacity by cutting off the sides of the venue. The way the watercourt is set up the bulk of the seating is off from center. For a concert that's no problem, but the viewing angle of the screen means that people sitting on the edges can't see at all.

While this event was bigger, I noticed these exact same problems last year for Mad Hot Ballroom. We got there at least an hour early and got bench seats just on the edge of a viewing angle that was acceptable. I'm sure I made the same screen comments then.

What could be done to greatly improve capacity?

Add a second screen and position the two so that they point out from each other. Right away you've opened up the rest of the venue.

Put bleachers in behind the benches on the balcony. Bleachers only six or eight rows high would double or triple the watercourt's capacity. They could be easily put in the day of an event that's expected to draw a large crowd and taken down after.

It's not ok to say that people need to get there earlier if they want to see the show. Downtown's population is growing, and people from elsewhere are continuing to recognize Downtown as a cultural destination. More people will come to these events and there needs to be a plan to accomodate them.


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