The Rant: Theater sightlines less than perfect for patrons of lesser stature

Linda Davidson/ The Washington Post/THE WASHINGTON POST - The interior of the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage.

Sometimes not being tall is the best thing ever. You can belt skirts and make them dresses. You can cash in on your student discount forever. It is highly unlikely you’ll ever have to worry about being taller than your boyfriend.

But, say you have arrived at the theater in a skirt that you’ve turned into a dress, with a ticket purchased using that everlasting student discount, on the arm of someone of average height but who, for your purposes, might as well tower over the president. Everything is swell.

Until . . . a tall person takes the seat right in front of you. There goes the whole night. You can do that sway-from-side-to-side thing, but all you’ll really accomplish is to annoy the person seated behind you.

Bing Thom, architect of Arena Stage, is 5-foot-5. His wife is 5-2. He understands. The problem, more often than not, is sightlines, he says. “Sometimes the seating is not staggered,” he explains. “You want to be looking between two shoulders.”

“Hooray!” you might be thinking. “Stagger the seats and everything will be stellar!” It sounds easy until Thom does some box-office math: “To have them staggered, you could lose 20 to 30 seats in capacity.”

Alas. But what’s a small drop in ticket proceeds to ensure that everyone who did buy a ticket can see what they came to see? Someone who has a bad experience at a theater probably won’t be so hot to return.

Another obvious option: Slope the floor or step the floor from row to row. Why hasn’t every theater already done that? Well this, too, causes conundrums: “Sometimes you’re limited by how much you can slope [by] whether there’s a balcony in the back,” Thom says. “And if the slope is too steep, you feel a pressure in your knee.”

The do-it-yourself solution, then, involves not only sitting on your coat but also bringing something on which to rest your feet, to make up for the difference in space — which surely is exactly what you feel like schlepping from your house to the theater and back.

Until theaters are willing to do the reconfigurations that would make play-watching easy for patrons of all sizes, the best thing you can do, according to Thom, is buy an aisle seat.

Or, if all the aisle seats are sold out, you could just stay in and watch something on Netflix. Bet you’ll have perfect sightlines from your couch.

Goldstein is 5-foot-3 and loves the theater.

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