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Does where you sit affect your perceptions of a performance?

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Prompted finally to ask this question by a discussion in the Romeo & Juliet thread: I've wondered for years to what extent where we sit affects how we perceive a performance/work, and whether this is a contributory factor in why there can be so many differing views of a performance.  I suspect this is likely to be truer at the Royal Opera House than probably anywhere else, given how varied the seating and views are, but it also must apply to those who sit in the front rows compared with those up in the gods.  I'm sure there's a good reason why the main dance critics tend to get given the same seat for the performances they're reviewing at the ROH!

 

Starters for ten from me:

 

1) Several McGregor ballets which I've always said look better from on high than stalls circle level

 

2) A Leanne Benjamin/Edward Watson The Dream which I really enthused about (and hold up against all other performances of the work) - but I was sitting in a (bargain-priced) seat in the stalls at the time.  That certainly helped me pick up all the fine detail - but did there happen to be more of it/was it better at that performance, or was it just that I could perceive it better because I was much closer?

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This season, I have sat in the Stalls, Stalls Circle, Grand Tier (for a rehearsal), Balcony and Amphi. and, for me, the experience has varied enormously according to where I am watching from.  I personally like to be close to, and wrapped up in, the action. I know that I miss ‘the patterns’ but I value the emotional involvement more than anything else.

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I always sit in the stalls. Depending on the venue (Staatsballett performs in 3 theatres - Deutsche Oper, Staatsoper and Komische Oper, guest companies often perform at Haus der Berliner Festspiele). I prefer to sit Row 2 or 8-10, center. Like capybara, I like to be "wrapped up in the action". Aso, I'm pretty small, so I try to avoid "towers" in front of me as much as possible. If I don't have a good view to the stage, it sours me the entire experience, e.g. craning my neck from left to right. Ugh.

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Posted (edited)

Although I attend live performances several times a week, and as such can rarely afford to sit in the expensive seats (indeed, in a seat at all), on the occasions when I do treat myself, I will always choose proximity to the stage (e.g. at Covent Garden, the front row Stalls or good Side Stalls Circle) over supposedly the "best" seats (central Stalls or Grand Tier).  I treat myself because of particularly special artists or combinations thereof; all my favourite artists are emotionally expressive and I need to be able to see their faces. The same goes for both opera and ballet.

Edited by RuthE
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If you are in the circle for Swan Lake (and other big ballets), you can see all the pretty patterns the corps make, which you won't see if you are in the stalls. If you're watching R&J from the circle, the stage looks really empty for most of the ballet. The worse case for this was ENB R&J In The Round, which I saw in the Adelaide Entertainment Centre (basically an aeroplane hanger). I was in the front row and for most of the ballet, the two dancers looked to be about 4 miles away. Reminds me of when I saw David Bowie in a stadium gig. More the Small White Speck than the Thin White Duke. They said it was David Bowie, but it could have been anybody.

 

If you are in the front row of the stalls of a theatre (my preferred spot), you can watch the orchestra if the ballet is a bit dull. You can sometimes hear the dancers grunting too, which shows they are human after all.

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3 minutes ago, trog said:

If you are in the front row of the stalls of a theatre (my preferred spot), you can watch the orchestra if the ballet is a bit dull. You can sometimes hear the dancers grunting too, which shows they are human after all.

 

Or you can hear the *conductor* grunting, or singing along with orchestral parts!

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Posted (edited)

Absolutely. If I'm not near enough to see facial expressions then it is unlikely I will be able to enjoy a performance much - this is irrespective of the art form: opera, plays, musicals. It doesn't help that I'm very short sighted so can't see facial expressions at distances that others may still be able to. Whenever I can afford to do so I will book front row stalls (sadly at the ROH I can rarely afford it!). I will always take a restricted view nearer a stage to a clear view further away. At the ROH I gave up sitting in the amphi some years ago & now will only see something if I can get side stalls circle or, when they're at the cheaper end of the pricing spectrum, the first few rows of the stalls. Given the size of the ROH's & Coliseum's orchestra pits even front row stalls in those theatres is further than I would like to be from the stage but there's no remedy for that!

 

ETA I agree with @RuthE about the "best" seats in theatres rarely being what I'd consider the best seats. I occasionaly click "Best Available" on seating websites that offer that option just to see what it gives & I don't think it's ever given me what I would consider to be the best available seat.

Edited by Dawnstar
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I almost always sit in the Amphi, and make extensive use of my opera glasses. I find it totally absorbing and have no problem at all getting involved; though I'm not sure how I'd feel if I didn't use opera glasses. Of course they have the disadvantage of excluding the wider stage when you're using them; but I've become very adept at switching in and out of using them. Sitting in the stalls you lose a huge amount in terms of shape, pattern, and depth though obviously it has great advantages in terms of seeing the dancers close-up without the strain of using opera glasses. So my preference would be to sit in the Amphi routinely (in the centre, if I could afford it, which I can't) but if someone is kind enough to buy me a seat in the stalls from time to time I am thrilled to accept!

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I try to sit H sides in the Orchestra Stalls above the gangways and unless people in Row E are incredibly tall (and there’s no camera in A6/7), the view is fabulous - sufficiently near the stage to see the detail but still having a decent perspective of the whole stage and pretty good aurally.  I occasionally try the front row, particularly if there are cameras.  It’s good to be so close but feet can be obscured and the sound can be dominated by whoever is immediately by your feet.  I also like more central seats in the Grand Tier and Balcony for that wonderful perspective of the entire stage and the better acoustic so will mix and match if I’ve opportunity to see a few performances in a run.  But overall Orchestral Stalls H on the left hand side of the theatre for upper strings, woodwind and curtain calls is my first choice, particularly if I can book either my or my wife’s named seats - sitting in one of them certainly adds an extra frisson to a performance.

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Since acoustics have been brought into the discussion... I know it's a cliche, but for opera I've never heard better than in the upper slips front row (and I've been lucky enough to have sat in the centre stalls on occasion). It's no good for vertigo sufferers or people who value a comfortable seat, though, and the view of the stage varies from partially restricted to bad, depending on the production and other audience members.

 

You can get something a bit more comfortable in the lower slips for the same price - and if it's a long evening I often go for this - but you do lose a bit on quality of sound: too close to the action I suppose.

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16 hours ago, Dawnstar said:

Absolutely. If I'm not near enough to see facial expressions then it is unlikely I will be able to enjoy a performance much - this is irrespective of the art form: opera, plays, musicals. It doesn't help that I'm very short sighted so can't see facial expressions at distances that others may still be able to. Whenever I can afford to do so I will book front row stalls (sadly at the ROH I can rarely afford it!). I will always take a restricted view nearer a stage to a clear view further away. At the ROH I gave up sitting in the amphi some years ago & now will only see something if I can get side stalls circle or, when they're at the cheaper end of the pricing spectrum, the first few rows of the stalls. Given the size of the ROH's & Coliseum's orchestra pits even front row stalls in those theatres is further than I would like to be from the stage but there's no remedy for that!

 

ETA I agree with @RuthE about the "best" seats in theatres rarely being what I'd consider the best seats. I occasionaly click "Best Available" on seating websites that offer that option just to see what it gives & I don't think it's ever given me what I would consider to be the best available seat.

 

I’m completely with you on seating choice, Dawnstar! I like to be close and see expressions, with the first couple of rows of the stalls for preference, but Stalls Circle side as second choice if I can’t afford the stalls.

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3 hours ago, JohnS said:

 But overall Orchestral Stalls H on the left hand side of the theatre for upper strings, woodwind and curtain calls is my first choice, particularly if I can book either my or my wife’s named seats - sitting in one of them certainly adds an extra frisson to a performance

John your last remark is particularly moving.

 

Do you find OC row H easy to book? Seats there rarely seem available when I look...

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As I'm pretty small, I often find that my view is partially blocked if I'm sitting behind someone tall. Fair enough if it's a restricted view seat, but if it isn't then it can really spoil my experience of the ballet. I once used an inflatable cushion and was angrily told by the person behind me that they're only for children!

 

I prefer the front row amphitheatre seats with limited legroom as they seem to be pretty good value, but as a treat I like to sit in the orchestra stalls. The one ballet I regretted not seeing from lower down was Woolf Works - I didn't get the full effect of the wave patterns in Act 3 sitting higher up. 

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24 minutes ago, aliceinwoolfland said:

I once used an inflatable cushion and was angrily told by the person behind me that they're only for children!

 

I’ve certainly seen at least one (definitely adult) regular using them.

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46 minutes ago, Richard LH said:

John your last remark is particularly moving.

 

Do you find OC row H easy to book? Seats there rarely seem available when I look...

 

Many thanks Richard - I’ve been treating myself to Premium 2 Friends for some time now and do find H sides reasonably available when booking opens if I’m on on time.  Not always (opening nights etc) but I probably book H3 or H4 for half of my visits.  As I say I do like taking in a different view if I’m seeing a number of performances.  

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8 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

Since acoustics have been brought into the discussion... I know it's a cliche, but for opera I've never heard better than in the upper slips front row (and I've been lucky enough to have sat in the centre stalls on occasion). It's no good for vertigo sufferers or people who value a comfortable seat, though, and the view of the stage varies from partially restricted to bad, depending on the production and other audience members.

 

You can get something a bit more comfortable in the lower slips for the same price - and if it's a long evening I often go for this - but you do lose a bit on quality of sound: too close to the action I suppose.

 

In terms of sound, I've never sat in the slips but out of where I have sat the front of the amphi has been the best. However I'd rather have a closer view with less good sound. I suppose all the seating preferences discussed on this thread depend on what is the most important aspect of a performance for people. For me acting is the most important thing, even though I know that for opera it's supposed to be the music & for ballet the movement. I guess I'm a bad fan!

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Getting back to the original question, I've certainly realised that I tend to be less involved in a performance at Sadler's Wells if I'm stuck at the back of the Second Circle (something which has been happening on a rather more regular basis since the first couple of price bands in the Second Circle have at times become quite exorbitant themselves).  It somehow seems so far back that I tend to pick very little up.

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Where I am sitting tends to be less important than who is sitting around me/who i am sitting behind!

 

I had a terrible experience sitting behind a couple on a date at the last two pigeons run. They were constantly leaning into each other and I couldn’t see a thing. Neither could the people behind me. I find this really stressful and on this occasion I should have complained or left.  That was stalls middle bank of seats where each row is slightly offset so this shouldn’t be a problem.

 

A decent view is a big factor in terms of my favourite seats- at all price ranges. It doesn’t always mean front row or best price at the ROHbut this is something I won’t compromise on (unless I have knowingly booked a slight restricted view). At the Coliseum, it’s much easier to find a good view and to really get drawn into the performance.

 

 

Atmosphere is also really important- some areas of the ROH are just more buzzy to sit in than others. Sadlers Wells is often simply lacking in terms of atmosphere -it can depend on the production which sometimes dictates the crowd but i also think it is lacking because it is such a sparse, modern auditorium. Live music also much preferred in this venue to recorded music which is a lot less involving.

 

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Posted (edited)

Agree with some of the folk above - sitting close enough to see expressions matters more for me than seeing patterns - I feel more connected to the performance as a whole. If I'm seated too far back even in the stalls, I feel as if I'm watching a DVD on a large screen, and I can't seem to feel the emotions (on that one occasion that happened, it could have been because I was watching a Nutcracker and it's generally less heavy on the story when the dancing gets going).

 

That said, there's such a thing as "too close for comfort" for me; I sat in the front row once in an orchestra-less performance (which some may prefer because they can see the motion of the feet and legs) - but it was too close to the action and lights, which made the ballet (also a Nutcracker) actually less of a fantasy and too real for me - I could sense the stress of the pas de deux much too close for comfort. And it was a very taxing pas de deux. I'm short - I'll take my chances with being blocked (as I have been) by taller people with creative hairdos, as long as I can usually see the faces :)

Edited by squadron

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3 hours ago, squadron said:

That said, there's such a thing as "too close for comfort" for me

 

I recall watching ENB performances of Giselle in Woking in 2010 and, desipte there being an orchestra, feeling far too close for comfort in the front row of the stalls there. As one Albrecht fell exhausted to the stage, he caught my eye and said later that that was uncomfortable for him too.

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A seat nearer the front allows me to answer questions like, is that Bill Nighy as the cardinal type bloke in R&J? 😂

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2 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

And was he?

 

Definitely!! :)

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I've given up on Southampton because I find it like sitting in an aircraft hangar and without atmosphere.  Not wild about Bristol Hippodrome either.  Which parts of ROH do you rate for atmosphere?

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5 minutes ago, penelopesimpson said:

I've given up on Southampton because I find it like sitting in an aircraft hangar and without atmosphere.

 

Have you been since the refurb? It's so much better, like a different theatre. 

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1 hour ago, penelopesimpson said:

I've given up on Southampton because I find it like sitting in an aircraft hangar and without atmosphere.  Not wild about Bristol Hippodrome either.  Which parts of ROH do you rate for atmosphere?

 

I find the biggest problem with the Bristol Hippodrome is the orchestra pit being so shallow. If you sit in the first few rows of the stalls you can have your view blocked by musical instruments. Given the theatre doesn't have that great a rake, if you go far enough back to avoid having the orchestra intrusively in view then you end up pretty far back. However I did find it amusing when watching comic operas to see the musicians also watching the stage & laughing at what was going on - I guess Bristol is the only stop on WNO's tour circuit where the orchestra can see the stage!

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Yes where you sit definitely affects enjoyment I think.  I saw the Christmas triple bill from the Ampi and then Balcony it was so much more enjoyable from the Balcony for me.  

I think the first ballet I sat in the ROH stalls was Coppelia (with Marianela) in row H and I was amazed how good it was but I prefer overall to be high up as I love to see the patterns in the choreography.

Just lately I find it difficult to get into any ballets I see, maybe it's ballet fatigue.

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2 hours ago, Don Q Fan said:

.Just lately I find it difficult to get into any ballets I see, maybe it's ballet fatigue.

 

I have a feeling that quite a few of us are feeling a little 'spaced out' by all the R&Js wherever we are sitting! I'm wanting to see the various leads but not necessarily the full ballet.

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I've tried every possible seating position at all levels in the ROH to test both value for money and my personal preference and I'm very clear in my choice now which is always front Orch Stalls because for me, seeing the dancers' faces clearly gives me a great deal of pleasure.  Row J / K is possibly the best view for rake and H above the exit  but I tend to go for E/ F now to be nearer as being short, you can get a dismal experience even the "best seats"  if you have someone tall in front of you.  I sit on my coat, not a cushion, but I sympathise with all previous comments from vertically challenged people!  I can see why the Grand Tier is a preferred option for many in terms of overall view, but for me, the proximity of the dancers is all.  I never feel the same after watching a performance from there, even if in a "very good" seat.  

 

My one and only trip to the Lower Slips resulted in extreme vertigo and not being able to see any of the performance because I was clinging to my seat with my eyes closed.    

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The only time I've ever sat in expensive seats in the ROH was when I was in the Grand Tier for  the Kirov (as they were then called) rehearsals in the early 2000's. I used to be a Friend of the Kirov just for the privilege of buying Grand Tier rehearsal tickets for £10. I sat on the front row next to the left hand wall and had a great view of all the stage. Also, being at the edge of the semi circle you felt a lot nearer to the stage than if you were more central. A couple of times I tried a box just to see what it was like but both times concluded the Grand Tier was a far better view. Never having been able to afford a Grand Tier ticket for ordinary performances I now much prefer side stalls circle where I find I can usually get a good view both of most (or all) of the stage and also see dancers expressions and small acting details. Nowadays I much prefer this experience than peering at the action through my binoculars in the amphi, though because of the increasing prices I sometimes have to revert to the amphi.

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