It is in the matter of comfortable seating that American theatres are most deficient. England, though lacking in aisle space, offers the most comfortable seating in the world because of a legal provision for ample passage room between seat rows. The law in that country demands that all seats be spaced 36 inches from back to back, instead of the 32 inches which is the maximum width in this country. To add to that passage space low-backed chairs are employed similar to those indicated in the accompanying cut. It is therefore unnecessary for anyone to arise to permit the passage of a neighbor, and it is extremely doubtful if an Englishman's ideas of personal rights would allow him to stand merely to accommodate a greedy management.
This extra space allowance of four inches to each row would mean the loss of the last two rows of seats in an auditorium of twenty rows; a trifling decrease compared with the satisfaction and increased patronage it would secure. Imagine the luxury of never having one's attention to an absorbing play disturbed by having to arise to permit the passage of a neighbor.
The character of the seats themselves is also a matter of first importance. The diagram showing the increased space taken up by a high-backed chair that leans backward as compared with the low-backed and more comfortable one before referred to clearly indicates that several inches are gained for each low chair used.
Health also demands an erect posture, whether sitting, standing or walking, and every chair should be nearly upright and modeled with only a slight curve to fit the back and support the spine at its lumbar region. The high-backed chairs generally used in America invite a slouching, unhealthful attitude besides requiring additional space.
There should be plenty of aisles for hasty exit from the theatre, and no seat should have more than six other seats on either side intervening between it and the aisle. The wider the seats the more comfortable they will be. Width of seats, however, is not so important as width between rows.
With a mean width of from 20 to 22 inches for each seat and an average of four feet each for center or intermediate aisles, and three and one-half feet for side aisles, an ideal auditorium would be from seventy to seventy-five feet wide between the side boxes or about ninety feet between walls without side boxes. When side boxes are installed only seven seats may be used in the extreme side sections, as the seats then abut against the box fronts and are consequently closed at that end. The use of side boxes transfers the side aisles to the space behind the boxes, where it should be widened to form an inclosed foyer.
Wide auditoriums are preferable to narrow ones, as they allow more seating near the stage and decrease the relative distance to be traveled to the exit doors in times of panic. Where it is possible the middle section of the auditorium, which is the one affording the best view of the stage, should be utilized for seats instead of for a middle aisle.
Closed boxes in the rear of the audience hall and sometimes at the rear of the balcony give a more finished and cosey appearance to a theatre, and their inclosure helps to confine the acoustic space within better limits. Open loggias are also an excellent decorative feature for the front of a balcony; and they serve to popularize the really best seats in the theatre, especially in a picture house. Extra wide passages should be provided in the rear of these loggias so that patrons may enter them freely.
Tip-up chairs, preferably with folding arms that close with the action of the seat and thereby grant extra space for thoroughfare, are most desirable. If upholstered in leather or a good imitation of leather they are cooler and more comfortable than when covered with tapestry or plush. Close-woven cane chairbacks and seats are also sanitary and cool. Chairs upholstered in plush, besides being hot and uncomfortabe, harbor disease germs and dirt.
Besides good ventilation there are other features pertaining to health and aiming toward the comfort of theatre patrons that should have attention. The use of soiled or heavy carpets for floors, cloth-upholstered furniture, cloth wall coverings, or heavy draperies, in all of which dirt and disease-germs are bound to lurk, should be avoided. The drainage and plumbing of a theatre, too, should always be of the best, and all refuse or rubbish should be removed promptly and regularly. The theatre itself and every thing about it should be constantly kept clean and in a sanitary condition. As contributory to this end it would be well to institute a system of periodical inspections that would promote the health and comfort of the patrons and staff.
Model Plan of Schauspielhaus, Stuttgart, Germany.