A Big Mess in the Big Apple!

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Exploring cities and going to the theater are two of my favorite things to do in the entire world, and it’s hard to beat New York City as a destination for both.

Despite loving the theater, I find walking around Broadway, the beating heart of New York’s theater district, to be one of the most anxiety-inducing and chaotic experiences a person can have.

On a recent trip to NYC, my husband and I went to see a play right in the heart of the Great White Way, located on a side street that was home to four or five of the hottest shows at the time. Like the thousands of other theater enthusiasts from across the world with tickets to see shows on that particular night, we got to the theater around 45 minutes early to make sure we had enough time to get in and settled before the curtain went up. Having been to that part of midtown Manhattan many times before, I knew we’d be walking through crowds and clutter, so I was mentally prepared for the madness.

What I was not prepared for, though, was to come face to face with one of the clearest examples of institutional organizational inefficiency (and the inspiration for this blog article): the unruly madness outside of the theaters themselves!

So this week I am going to break down and assess the problem of the pre-show Broadway pedestrian experience as I would any workplace operational problem.

Everyone know that midtown Manhattan is nuts.

It’s a sea of tour buses, large groups of teenagers on school trips, starstruck families of slow-moving tourists, Bluetooth earbud-wearing businessmen conducting meetings on the go, city dwellers going about their daily lives, and taxies driven by cranky cabbies all vying for the right to move through or stand uninterrupted in the narrow streets. Horns are honked, lines are cut, shoulders are bumped, exchanges of “Watch it! No YOU watch it” ensue while stress levels climb. All of that is par for the course in dense urban areas. 

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The part I couldn’t understand was why the theaters didn’t seem to have any processes in place to manage the hordes of audience members who show up in anticipation of the shows! For decades, tens of thousands of people have queued up every single day in the same spots just outside the theaters. Some of these people already have tickets; some are waiting for last-minute, pre-show ticket lotteries; some are picking tickets up at will-call; some are trying to sell tickets. This happens outside several dozen historic theaters all located within a few square blocks, each of which puts on eight shows a week, as they have for well over 100 years.

Theater owner and managers know they are located in a crazy part of a crazy city, and they know from more than a century of experience about the specific circumstances, questions, and challenges of their customer base. So why haven’t they done anything to make that part of the theater going experience more pleasant, or at least less stressful, for their patrons?

  •  Why are there no signs telling people where to queue up for which show?

  • Why are the lines not clearly divided for people who are picking up tickets at will-call versus those who already have their tickets in hand or on their cell phone?

  • Why aren’t the show times at adjacent theaters staggered to limit simultaneous chaos?

  • Why don’t the doormen and box office personnel provide better instructions?

Any one of these tweaks, each of which seems like common sense but would require managerial intervention, would greatly improve the theater-going experience.  Most businesses can’t afford to neglect key components of their customer experience like that. I know mine can’t.