The Arts & Everything in Between

March 26, 2024 | Duration: 49 mins

The Disruption Dilemma: The Complexities Of Audience Behaviour


Richie Ross
Sean Kelly
James Randall
Dana McMillan

This episode of The Arts and Everything in Between was ecorded live with an audience of Ticketsolve community members. Hosted by Lucy and featuring a panel of industry experts from venues across the UK and Ireland, the discussion is sparked by findings from a Ticketsolve survey revealing that 92% of organisations have faced disruptions due to audience conduct, yet only 60% had a defined policy around audience behaviour.

The panellists candidly share real-life examples of challenges like alcohol smuggling, late arrivals, photography violations, and confrontations with unruly patrons. They explore different approaches such as bag checks, dance floors, bar policies, and staff training to mitigate issues while maintaining an enjoyable atmosphere. A key theme is the need for consistency in messaging and enforcement across venues and events.

The conversation weighs the balance between implementing firm rules and exhibiting flexibility to foster an inclusive environment that can be adapted to various audiences and show types. Ultimately, the episode provides insights for empowering staff, setting reasonable audience expectations, and prioritising safety while delivering outstanding audience experiences. Practical tips are offered for theatre professionals grappling with this increasingly prevalent issue.



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About Our Guests

Featured Guest

Richie Ross

General Manager, Ipswich Theatres

Featured Guest

Sean Kelly

Operations and Business Development Manager, Riverside Theatre

Featured Guest

James Randall

Front of House Manager, Falmouth University AMATA

Featured Guest

Dana McMillan

Front of House and Events Manager, Kiln Theatre

Dorothy: Welcome to the arts and everything in between brought to you by ticket soul at the arts and everything in between. We chat with industry leaders and specialists about some of the big issues facing professionals working in arts, culture, heritage, and live entertainment.

George: Today, we’re proud to present a special live episode of the arts and everything in between.

Recorded with a virtual audience of Ticketsolve community members. Lucy is joined by a panel of venue managers from across the UK and Ireland, as they dive deep into a topic that’s sparking conversations everywhere. Who needs to adapt in the face of changing societal norms? The audiences, or the artists and venues?

The episode shares results of a Ticketsolve survey. That approached over 350 venues about their experiences and our panel share their experiences, approaches and challenges in managing disruptive behavior. The conversation covers topics such as policies. Welcome to the panel discussion on alcoholism and the impact of alcohol on audience behaviour.

The panellists also offer insights and suggestions for promoting consistency, creating a welcoming environment and fostering positive audience experiences.

Lucy: Welcome behaviour. The arts and everything in between live. Our topic today is the disruption dilemma, the complexities of audience behavior. And this podcast episode has very much been inspired by some of the headline topics that we’ve been reading about recently.

And we’ve put a panel together on some industry managers. all across the UK and Ireland just to come together and share some of their views as well and also share some snippets of the insights that we’ve gotten from a survey that was conducted by Ticketsolve. It was sent to just over 350 arts organizations including theatres, live venues, So it wouldn’t be an Arts and Everything in Between podcast if we didn’t form some sort of interaction with our listeners.

And while we have our panellists here today, we have Sean Kelly of Riverside Theatre, we have James Randall as part of Falmouth University, Yamato, Ritchie Ross giving you an introduction from Ipswich Theatres. We also have Dana McMillan joining us as well from Kiln Theatre and myself, Lucy Costello and my colleague Ella Bailey from Ticket Solve.

Myself and Ella will just take you through some of the kind of headline insights that have come from the audience survey that we have been conducting since probably the end of January this year.

Ella: We just wanted to share some of the most interesting numbers that we got. Um, from the survey. So yeah, so a whopping 92 percent of surveys then you said that they’d experienced disruptions due to audience behavior, but only 2 percent had a specific policy.

So that’s 42 percent that just didn’t have a policy regarding audience etiquette or audience behavior. See, 4% had implemented measures to prevent or minimized disruption. So we’ll go through some of what those measures look like. Um, a little bit further on question,

Lucy: and I guess, you know, at, at this stage, um, the panel met last week as well, just just to chat through kind of some of their own experiences that was happening as well.

And Richie, just, just from, you know, the, the final figures of our survey, I guess, is there anything there that is a surprise, isn’t a surprise to you at this moment?

Richie: Uh, I don’t think there’s any surprises there at all, really. I think it’s an. particularly sad that 92. 1 percent people or respondents have had just some destructive behavior.

Um, and like I say, we’ll go through the reasons as to what we think contributes to that a bit later on. And some ideas that maybe we can put in place to help you manage those situations. But yeah, there’s no surprises there. I think I don’t think anybody that’s watching it Well, we’ll go there’s that’s absolutely realistic and probably Very believable as well.

Lucy: Great. So we might jump into then what our survey participants shared that some of the kind of the bigger barriers were for them.

Ella: Yeah, of course. So we kind of talked about how disruptions impact performers and sort of the overall quality of performance. And there was very much a split between people saying, well, it impacts the performers, but it also impacts sort of the overall experience of theatre goers.

People saying that the atmosphere was ruined and it pulls people out of the story. Um, and yeah, just lots of people saying that the performers kind of are used to it now, which was, I guess, a bit sad. Um, but it was sort of other people who were there for Like a fun day out, a fun night out, um, with the ones who are really suffering.


Richie: think, uh, I think one of the other questions is, and it may come up a bit later on, is, is the impact on, on the other audience members that are not part of the disruptive behaviour. And whilst it’s disruptive for the performers on stage, clearly, and, and when they have to do a show stop because there’s disruption in the auditorium.

It’s the bigger impact on the reputation of the theatre involved and the aftermath of dealing with customers, um, that then rightly so feel like they want to raise some complaints afterwards because one or two people have been disruptive during the performance.

Lucy: Definitely. That’s pretty interesting. So we’re going to now hand it over to, to Richie and the panel.

Something that was really interesting that we spoke about last week, Richie, was this idea of understanding this, this kind of challenge around inconsistency within the sector. And I know our panelists all shared that various different approaches that you’re taking within your own venues. So I suppose the big question is, can looking at an issue such as the dynamics of audience Something that we can make consistent in the sector.

Richie: Yeah, I think one of the, one of the issues we have here is we have our standard house rules and our standard house rules is things like, you know, no photography, no filming, no cameras, all the rest of it. However, you then get promoter that will come in, you know, that’s theoretically hired the venue for whatever purpose.

So they are also a customer clearly, and they have a different set of rules on their rider or a different set of expectations that override our house rules and the, and. Part of the question is, where do we stand as a venue in terms of allowing the promoter to dictate those? Because from a customer’s perspective, they can come in and see a number of different performances in it over a period of time.

And one show they’ll be allowed to take photographs because it’s encouraged from the stage. Another perform, another time they’ll come and the house rules, you know, come into play and, you know, we’re saying no photography. And there’s a lot of inconsistency with different promoters in terms of what their expectation is as well.

Lucy: Definitely. And, and Sean, what about yourself?

Sean: So, very similar to Richie, it’s one of the reasons that we actually don’t have an etiquette policy for our audiences. Being a mainly receiving venue, we have those same issues where one night, yes, take photos, take videos, post it up on social media. And then they come back a week later and our staff are having to go put your phone away.

You can’t take any photos. It’s very confusing for audiences now to properly understand what is acceptable within the theatre, particularly in regards to mobile phones. Also are the bane of my life, particularly Panto. If I stand at the back of the auditorium during Panto and it’s just a sea of parents on mobile phones because they’re not there to watch it.

They’ve brought their children but the children are just seeing their parents sitting beside them on the phone, Facebook, email and whatever.

Lucy: Definitely, I think someone as well, one of our, our attendees has mentioned that I’ve been near someone taking phone calls at multiple times during the show without ushers, staff attending to stop it.

So that was multiple phone calls. I have to say I’ve never been in an auditorium where someone’s actually picked up the phone. I don’t know how brave you’d have to be. Usually it’s the, oh my goodness, the panic then to reach into the bag, turn off the sound. Yeah.

James: Yeah, I’ve actually been at an event in another venue as an audience member and people that are on their phones and the front of house staff use strobe light torches to shine attention on the person on the phone and actually that approach has become more disruptive to the other audience members than the person on their phone.

in the first place and actually has drawn attention from audience members in the auditorium. So I think it’s a really interesting area and every venue is going to be so different.

Richie: One of the things we do here is, um, and I, I can’t, because I’ve got quite a zero tolerance level, the older I’ve got my tolerance level for people.

Being misbehaved has got worse and worse and worse. So I actually take great joy in shaming people when they’re using the camera. So I will deliberately walk right up to them through, you know, well, I’ve got 1, 535 seats in our auditorium. It’s a big space. And if someone is deliberately filming when they’ve been told not to, I will deliberately make an impact of walking into the, wherever they’re sat in the row and standing right in front of them and saying, put your phone away.

And you almost shame them into it then, um, because you’ve highlighted that they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and then it automatically makes everyone else feel they don’t want to be highlighted as doing something against the rules. Some of these, some of these messages coming through, there’s one that came through a minute ago about somebody going out the interval to grab a kebab.

I mean, it’s just, just beggars belief that it, I guess it’s the self righteousness, isn’t it, of audiences to believe that they can in any way that they feel they want to. And it, it. The thing that really grates on me is it’s irrelevant of how much they paid for their ticket price. You know, they could spend twenty, twenty five pounds on a ticket, or if they come and see a West End tour or musical, it could be anything circa sixty, sixty five pounds.

But they still expect to behave their self entitlement the way that they think they can do.

Lucy: Not to throw fuel to the fire, but the whole idea, I suppose, of the disruption dilemma was when we first sent out our audience survey, one of our respondents said, wouldn’t it be really cool to actually debate the question of who’s in the right, who’s in the wrong?

Should we not be adjusting our approaches to cater to this kind of new dynamic that’s being brought in? You know, we’re very much in a digital realm. People use their phones, they’re on their iPads, screen time and all of that. Is it us who should adapt or is it audience members who need to realize that no, it’s unacceptable to bring this in or you know that it’s entirely disruptive?

The other question that I have for the panel as well is, Richie, you take a bold approach like, you know, you tell your audience members obviously with the size of your venue that one person on their phone can end up disrupting 150. But what about venues? Who, you know, whether it’s an issue that they have that their front of house team mightn’t feel comfortable.

I know I’ve seen a lot of comments coming in where people have been in an auditorium and have seen people, but have also seen duty managers not approaching. It could be down to like staff confidence. But I suppose it’s a reality, you know, what, what happens when we have to take a softer approach? And, and Dana, maybe we could reach out to you and ask, what’s the approach that your theatre takes?

Is it kind of a softer approach in terms of phones or is it kind of a more obvious, shall we say?

Dana: Yeah, I think it’s, I mean, we, I suppose that kind of standard house rules. We’re just kind of being spoken about of turn their phones off before the start of the show and, and I think our front of house team is really good at approaching people during shows.

I think that’s the thing that we find in our venue, mostly in terms of like anti social behavior is, is phones being on or still being used. But I think for us too, it’s different audience behavior is different depending on each show and in a different way to like different types of people. Performances coming into the building, you know, it is always a play.

It is always a theater show. It’s not like a, a music gig coming in and things where those rules are different every time. But I think for each performance, it brings a different demographic of people. Some have been to our venue a lot. Some coming for the first time, you know, different audiences that are maybe.

That do go to the theater more often, some that don’t. So I think you do have to be a bit adaptable to creating a space where everyone feels comfortable to be in there. And I think, I think there is a thing in a show, right, of working out what is the most disturbing thing. Is it more disturbing to like flash your torch at someone to ask them to turn off their phone or choose the moment that’s right in the show to approach them or wait to the interval or I don’t know.

I think, I think we do have to be, and maybe I’m maybe speaking from a place where we don’t get the same things that would happen on the West End of the kind of headlines that we saw before. But I think if theater wants to adapt, we have to be like, or to survive is also to adapt audiences, to make them comfortable in a space as well to a limit.

Like, obviously there’s certain things you have to stop, but yeah, I think it’s, I think there is an element of leveling with your audience as well.

Lucy: Oh, I like that leveling. That reminds me a little bit of, um, when I think of, of, of, of leveling, it’s like, it’s always a little bit of a, of a seesaw as well.

How do we actually get that level? But Richie, should we maybe take through some of those? There’s lots of experiences coming in. I can see some of the key topics and Richie, James, Sean, and Dana, you might pull out some of the ones that resonate with your, your own experience.

James: I think it’s interesting seeing one that’s just scrolled through there about, um, the audience behavior isn’t just a thing that we’ve become more aware of because of returning to, to live entertainment from COVID.

This was an issue before COVID, um, and it has been, it’s just been a bit more maybe exacerbated and the spotlight has definitely been shone on it more. I mean, I can remember an incident in our venue. In what, 2014, that resulted in all of our staff in front of house staff needing to have conflict resolution training to deal with difficult customers who, you know, would come back two, three, four, sometimes five times for verbal assaults at staff at the box office or in front of house.

So COVID has exacerbated it, but this has been an issue for a long time.

Richie: There was one from somebody that went to the live music venue. I manage a music venue and it’s really hard to manage different audience types that are clashing. So I actually get that as well because I also manage, uh, the Cornish Engine Town, which is a thousand standing venue and very much is a live music gig venue.

And of course, we adjust our in house policies to match the audience and the event. And one of the things that we do quite successfully is we do a, we do a security risk assessment. at the start when, when any show goes to, to contract. So, and there’s certain criteria that we look at. So we look at the expected use now, you know, we’ve been here for nearly a hundred years.

So we built up a lot of experience in terms of audience demographics. So we’ll look at expected ticket sales, the split between female and male, the age range, you know, if it’s likely to be a drinking audience. And then there’s this, there’s a risk against all of that. those, those sort of stats that give us a number in terms of how many SIA staff we need on and stuff like that.

So that’s a really useful benchmark for us. And we, we bought it in about five, six years ago now, it took a little bit of tweaking to kind of get the figures, you know, to get the figures, right. Um, But it’s a really good process at the start of every show that just gives you some additional backup. Now, you know, I appreciate that not every venue can afford to have SIA trained staff on.

And again, it’s a sad indictment that we even have to have, you know, say that today. And lots of venues do rely on volunteers. So to run their front of house, but I guess the expert, if you are aware of the expectation of audience behavior before you open your house to the paying public, at least there’s no surprises there.

But it, you know, it is difficult when you, when you’re looking at such a broad programming of venues and shows as well. Uh, it can be incredibly difficult dealing with issues as they happen if staff aren’t aware and customers can’t bring it to our attention mid show. Once the customer’s left the building it’s very hard to offer a suitable solution.

So this is the one thing that we certainly find. You can have all the best messaging in the world and we do pre show emails and we print on the tickets and we do, you know, we’ve got pages on the website about expectations of audience behavior. We’ve got posters up around the venue, but once they’ve had that bottle of Prosecco, there’s no accounting for how much you can try and prepare or detail them and give them information about audience behavior.

Just, I think

Dana: that is quite an interesting element of like, As you say, you can have all the messaging, you can have all the staff training, you can have staff that are really proactive, but in the end, like, people have built an expectation about their night, and you know, if you’ve spent, you know, maybe hundreds of pounds on a ticket, and then you’re spending lots of money at the bar.

You want to have a really good night. And I think there is that thing of sometimes, yeah, going out of the realm of what you know to be acceptable because it is this kind of like fantastical night to you. And I think that can be really hard to manage. Like, in the end, there is a responsibility on people entering any space.

to kind of control their own behavior.

Richie: Yeah. I mean, I spent many years working in nightclubs before I got into theatre. And obviously in a nightclub environment, if something kicks off on the dance floor, you deal with it, you chuck them out and that’s it, done and dusted. They’ll come back next week or you ban them or whatever.

In a theatre environment, it’s the aftermath for me. And that’s the bit that we certainly find is more time consuming and, and ends up costing us money. Because if one or two people end up causing some disruption in the auditorium, It’s the people around them that will complain. So you can have people that we, every show we do gets a post show email and then they can, they can link to some, some show feedback or they can go for an official complaints procedure, which again, many of them do.

And if two or three people have stood up dancing in the middle of 1500 people, you know, that’s going to potentially disrupt maybe 20, 30 people sat around them. And that’s a challenging bit is those people will rightfully. Complaining afterwards because they couldn’t see the show or people were acting in a way they didn’t find conducive, you know, people talking all the way through a show or on their mobile phone and it’s the aftermath is the bit that I find most challenging to deal with, certainly me and the team do, because it could be, you know, it could be quite challenging to deal with that on a large show.

Sean: Yeah, I’ve seen a few comments there about your front of house staff dealing with it. Sometimes our front of house staff don’t have the confidence or they’re not in enough. You know, it’s casual staff and because we don’t have shows on all the time, so it’s casual staff and they may be only doing one shift a month.

They don’t have the confidence there and the duty manager cannot be in the auditorium the whole time. There’s other duties to do. It’s a really hard one, especially if the audience don’t actually say anything at the time. So we’ve had, I had a phone call yesterday of an audience member who wasn’t happy from a show last week, never mentioned anything on the night.

It’s really hard. Like, how do you deal with that? How are we meant to deal with that? If it’s raised to us at the time, we’ll absolutely deal with it there and then. But when it comes in to you a few days later, it’s really difficult.

Richie: And inevitably, those situations, you end up offering them a refund or credit on their account.

Or so there’s a financial implication as well, somewhere down the road. Even if it’s not officer time in dealing with it, there’s a financial impact where, you know, on how you Rectify that situation because ultimately you want to retain them as a customer and let them come back and have a positive experience.

So this is interesting. Uh, how to customers sit in the front row of a concert where they had purchased standing tickets, standing areas upstairs. So six people in the row for four and a few seats. And so this is a, there’s a local theater to us here. That’s they’ve just launched an initiative that I’m. I don’t think it’ll work for every venue.

It certainly wouldn’t work for us because a large proportion of our tickets are sold through ticket agents. But in this, this local theater here, that’s about 900 seats. It’s only stalls, so there’s no circle. They’ve allocated an area of the seating plan that is for seated only. Which is primarily the front of the auditorium and then towards the back, they’ve allocated seats where they say you are permitted to get up and dance.

So when you buy your tickets, you have the option as to whether you want to be in a dancing area or a seated only. And I think that’s, I think that’s a quite good initiative. If. If the layout of your auditorium works for it, like I say, it wouldn’t work here because we have VIP seats that are theoretically always at the front.

And then, you know, a lot of last portion of our tickets are sold for agents where that wouldn’t work either. So yeah, I think that’s quite a good, quite a good idea that could work for those venues where it might work.

Wendy: Um, Richie, I don’t know if that was, um, our venue that you were referring to about the dance floor.

No, it was, actually, I was going to

Richie: talk about your venue as well. The one, the one that’s got the split capacity, or the split auditorium is the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe. Um, but Wendy, I’ll let you tell the story because it’s a really good initiative that you’ve done as well that I was going to talk about.

Wendy: No problem. Um, I mean, we’re quite fortunate because we’re a multi purpose venue. So, we come up with the decision to Take away part of the stalls area. So we’ve got three sections. So we’ve got stalls, flat seating, tiered seating, and then dress circle. So by removing part of the stalls area, we created a dance floor.

So we still had some seats for those that have mobility issues. And we were still, I think we, capacity was still about 640, 650 with the removal of those seats. Most of our shows sell between three and 600. So, so it was appealing to a lot of the agents. So we trialed it last year with two shows. And I’m going to talk about a few examples that have happened in the past.

So we had a few shows, both of which, no, sorry, one of which had never been here before. Normally for a first time, it’s quite a hard sell, but with the dance floor, we’ve actually sold out. The second one was with an act that we’ve had a number of times. And the feedback from the staff was so positive.

Sorry, the customers were so positive. They just absolutely loved the dance floor. And we just felt that there was a. Different vibe. Everyone was just so happy. You know, they were releasing any anger issues that they may have by dancing. If they wanted to chat on the dance floor, obviously it didn’t really matter because people around them were having a great time anyway.

So, and we had no issues whatsoever. So we’ve managed to get some more agents on board now with this layout. And I’ve got six shows in the summer. So it’s just going to be interesting to see the behavioral patterns, whether it continues to be good or whether we’re still experiencing some issues with customer behavior while we’ve got the dance floor, but we just feel that they’re letting off their anger, you know, you’re not.

Telling them to sit down because they can actually get up and physically dance, which is what a lot of the issues are.


Richie: how, how is your messaging? So I think it’s a great initiative that you’ve, that you’ve introduced. And I think you’ve got that flexibility within your space to do it. It’s definitely worth considering, but how do you deal with the inconsistency in terms of the customer experience?

So for instance, if you, if you’re offering it across six of your shows within your season, and then those shows where you don’t offer it, how do the customers react if they come in to see? two or three shows and one show they’ve got a dance floor and other ones they haven’t.

Wendy: Um, well again, we’re quite fortunate that we do have quite a wide aisle space.

So generally when I put a show on sale, if I know that it’s going to be a show where customers are likely to get up and dance, we’ll do a reduced stall layout so that there’s still some flexibility for them to dance at the sides. And they’ve, yeah, we’ve, we’ve been quite lucky that customers have been quite happy to go and dance at the sides.

But yeah, we, we’re obviously really advertising the dance floor, but there is signage that goes up when we, when we haven’t got that in place and we’re encouraging customers to dance in the aisles rather than their seat. So we are quite fortunate that we have the space for that, which I appreciate not many venues do.

So it is difficult, but, but yeah, we, we just say to them, if they’re standing up in their seat, we’ll allow it once. And then if they continue to do so, then we’ll ask them to move to the side. And I think they’re kind of getting used to it now because we’re drumming it into them that that’s what we’re expecting them to do.

Richie: No, good. Um, one of the comments here is that we do the same thing at the Moon Eye Theatre in Lancashire. We have a flexible space. Um, so it looks like it’s being trialled out elsewhere, Wendy. You’re setting the standard now.

Wendy: That’s good. Good to hear. Hopefully we can keep them happy.

Richie: I think certainly if you’ve got a flexible space that could be standing or seating or you’ve got rake seating, um, or portable seats and you can create that, then that’s a, especially if you’re not selling out to capacity.

If you’re clearly selling out to capacity and by putting in a dance floor, you’re going to end up reducing your seats. Is there’s a financial implication to that as well?

Wendy: Yeah.

Sean: Just on that, I just see that comment there about the 30, 40, even 50 minutes late. I think customers always come in. It’s always our fault that they’re late.

Richie: Yeah,

Sean: 260 other people managed to get into their seats on time, but it’s our fault that you two are late. It’s always the car park. We couldn’t find it. We didn’t know where we were going. And my answer is, Oh, did you read the email, the pre show email that gives you the directions and the Google Maps link.

No, I don’t know what, other than driving to your house and picking you up and bringing you personally to the theatre, I don’t know what else

James: we could do. That’s a huge issue for us as the latecomer thing on a semi rural university campus with limited transport networks. You know, people are inevitably driving, so it’s not necessarily them even being late to get to the campus.

It’s then parking and getting To us, and there isn’t anything we can actually do to physically pick our building up and move it closer to, you know, 14 different car parks, you know, they’re always going to have an issue. It’s like, allow plenty of time to get there. So we took the approach of completely risk assessing all of our communications and seeing that as a risk instead of seeing it as just part of our marketing comms to sort of really, um.

rate, which elements were really high risk to prioritize different bits of information. I mean, people still don’t always read it, but at least it gives you some form of, um, armor when they arrive.

Dana: I do think people are just like stressed though, if they’re late and like, I know it’s, you know, it’s the same thing at an airport, if someone’s late for a flight, I’ve been in that situation.

And I think. Although it is really frustrating, it can be really frustrating from a front of house perspective. There is that thing of understanding that, you know, especially like in London, you know, either it’s the overground or the tube or the something. There are like really legitimate reasons why people are running late and then they really sad when they get there and they think that they’ve missed anything.

So, Mm-Hmm. Yeah, I think it’s a, it’s a tricky one to manage.

Richie: And also, I guess a bit like with the, the mobile phone news, a lot of the promoters will have their own late comers policy and they’ll say, you know, 10 minutes into the start of the show, that’s when you can let them in. But if I do arrive 20 minutes late, then theoretically the promoter saying you can’t let them in because we’re past our 10 minute period.

But then if we’ve got capacity, we’ll just sit them at the back. You know, if we’ve got, if we’ve got seats available, you know, we’ll just relocate them somewhere else and say, take your seats in the interval. But for now, cause you’re late. you know, sit in the back. Um, and then, yeah, so again, just a difficult one to manage, isn’t it?

Another one would, would be interested to know if you think showtimes have an impact on the behavior regarding music and gigs. Um, no, is the answer to that. I don’t think it does at all. I think, I think, uh, from my experience, If the show starts at half past seven, the reality is they’ve been necking Lambrusco at home before they get, before they get to your venue.

So I don’t, yeah, I don’t think the showtime has any impact, if I’m honest. I think it’s. More about the customer’s expectations about they can behave how they want to at whatever time the show is.


Lucy: thank you to everyone who’s been sharing our, uh, your experiences and it’s, it’s really been great to kind of get the conversation started.

I think something that we’re really keen to kind of look at today with the panelists is understanding the various different approaches that we can look at that we can take to kind of understand. How we might be able to kind of look at, I guess, this idea of, of inconsistency and consistency within the approaches that we take.

I’ll hand it back to you, Richie.

Richie: So, yep, so you can see here some of the comments that were received. Uh, we have implemented a dancing policy for the tribute bands music gigs. We did not let people dance on our higher tiers, and they have to acknowledge this in a pop up during the booking process. To agree to the policy before continuing to book.

So part of the general terms of conditions there, the bar team are empowered to refuse sale of alcohol. I think this is really important actually, that your teams are empowered, whether they’re front of house or the bar to be proactive and try and control some of the audience behavior, whether that’s refusing them to, to serve them any more alcohol or, or to approach them in the auditorium, we certainly do.

Conflict training with all of our staff, and then they’ve got the backup of SIA security as well. Signage and that might’ve been one of the comments that I made, we’ve, we’ve got signs that are held up in the auditorium to say, no photography, no filming. Empower your teams to, to react to these situations, but don’t put them in difficult positions.

Ultimately it’s down to us as general managers or theater managers or venue managers to, to deal with these situations and bringing in security staff to manage disruptive behavior. Just. You know, and there’s a cost to that, you know, on some of the bigger gigs, I can have teams of 14 to 20 SIA guys all on 20 an hour.

And where does that cost sit within, within my financial, um, aspects of that production.

Lucy: And is there any other approaches I suppose that our panelists take at the moment that might be slightly different, you know, particularly I’m always so interested to hear around what your policy is in terms of the bar and alcohol because as we know, in terms of, you know, secondary spend, it’s not something that we can, you know, even attempt to remove from our offering.

Richie: So for us, we don’t, you know, there will be certain shows, primarily comedians, that will say close the bar after the show started. That’s absolutely fine. However, I think you’ve got to keep it into some level of context. The reality is the amount of people that are disruptive, you know, in my 1500 seats.

They’re very minimal. The reality is most people know how to behave, know how to drink responsibly, will come out, have a good night and we’ll go home safe and sound. And if I do that, that’s my job done as an ad job done as a team. So. I don’t want to, I don’t want to jeopardize my income stream for the fact that three of, you know, two or three or three or four people might be not able to handle their alcohol and we just have to manage that or proactively manage that in a different way.

Sean: I’m not sure, Ritchie, about how you find it, but generally the disruptive ones through alcohol that we find, Are those that have not bought their alcohol in the theater? Yes. They come with it either hidden in their bags. Yeah. Or in water bottles or whatever they need to do. Or they come already tanked up before they arrive.

I don’t, I think we’ve maybe had one occurrence in all my time where it was a member of the public who had purchased alcohol from our bar. Generally it’s those either sneak it in or Have already arrived with a lot of reasons.

Richie: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. One of the things that we do is we, we do scanning of tickets and we do that at the entrance to the theatre.

When I started here, we used to do it internally. So your control point is always your front door. So we, On the busy show, people will have to queue to get in because, you know, we’ve got quite a big entrance, but you can only fit so many people through. And we use the opportunity to look at the people that are coming, whether they’ve had too much to drink.

And if we believe that they are highly intoxicated, we approach it before they get to the front door. So we deal with any disruption or any potential disruption before they’ve got into the building. And again, you know, we’ll use SIA guys to back us up on that. So I think that’s, that’s, that’s quite a good control point is.

Your access to your venue, where do you, where, where does that point of contact, your first point of contact come in with your customer?

Wendy: We did, um, a trial bag check, um, last year. I think it might have been sort of like early summer last year. Um, Cause obviously customer behavior was rife, really. And it was so surprising as to what we found.

I think you saw the Facebook comments, Richie. And I replied and you did reply and you did very much support us, which we were grateful for. But, but what we found disturbing was the way that they try and hide the alcohol. I mean, we had an elderly lady who must’ve been in her seventies and she actually put some neat alcohol in a hand sanitizer bottle.

At the time. Yeah. So, you know, so how are you, how can you ever sort of like control that ? Yeah. It’s, I mean, the amount of alcohol that we actually took from people that day was just unbelievable. And we did get a lot of flack as a result of it. But like we said, how can you tell whether it’s water or vodka?

Yeah. It’s, it all looks the same. So again, I think it’s

Richie: just, I think it’s just being consistent. So we, we, we back check every show coming in now. And then customers now know that they, if they, if they’re going to stand the risk of bringing something in that they’re going to get checked anyway. I mean, we won’t be doing it for the city show tomorrow.

I’m not going to lie. Um, but yeah, I think again, it’s just being consistent in how you put those processes into operation across the board. Last week, somebody turned up with a Chinese takeaway in their bag.

I mean, by the

Richie: time I went home it was very cold, so I hope it was microwavable.

Lucy: And are there any panellists, uh, maybe James and Dana, who don’t currently implement bag checks?

Is, you know, is that something that you would never consider within your own venue, or is it something that you’re starting to consider?

James: We have done it occasionally, so it’s very much a case by case event. It’s mostly for freshers. related events within the university that it’s applicable for. So our general other events are, you know, it’s a studio theater environment.

Our capacities are relatively low. Drinking isn’t a huge issue for us because again, that’s that rural environment. Lots of our audience members drive to, to us. So drinking isn’t. a huge issue. So it’s a risk based, um, exercise just sort of to risk assess it in advance to know if it’s, if it’s necessary or not.

Dana: I’d say, say for us, it, yeah, we, we don’t have that sort of issue in terms of excessive alcohol use that you would have in a, in a music venue. And I think we, our like welcome as a building, I think is quite important to us. And, and in terms of the show and the area we have. That we’re based in, I don’t, I’d have to think long and hard before and kind of thinking about bag checks and things, but I’d say it isn’t an issue that we currently have to deal with.

Um, but we do have a really amazing security guard who works with us who we’re really lucky is there consistently in the building. And I think that’s, again, consistency and, and having someone who’s, who’s there who can really trust and rely on. Um, but I think for us in terms of providing more notice or warnings to audience members.

I think if there’s anything specific about a show, like if we’re noticing something happening consistently across the season, whether it’s talking or people trying to photograph, like verbal communication on the door is really great as well. Like you can have as many signs in a building, but if someone has actually said it to your face, like on the door, I think that.

Makes a difference as well being able to give really specific information, but we are like under 300 people. So, you know, that’s there is the benefit there where we’re lucky to be able to do that. I suppose.

Lucy: Definitely. I heard a really interesting example actually from one of my colleagues who had attended.

I think it was stranger things and they’re given a, you’re given a sticker. As you walk into the auditorium by a person, and the idea is that you put that sticker on the back of your camera. So, you could easily rip off the sticker, but I think it’s just to give that second kind of, you have to think about it before you actually do it, because someone’s, given it to you.

So I’m not sure if that is a, is another way to look at kind of a softer approach that still has some form of, of an impact, but it would be great to, to, to reach out and ask, I guess, some of our attendees who are joining us today, you know, do you have a policy in place? Do you know if you have a policy in place?

And I guess, Then just to kind of ask our panelists as well, like Richie, I know you have like an internal policy and also you have your own policy as well in terms of what you implement in your audience. And Sean, you do too. So maybe you would fill us in on what that looks like.

Richie: Yeah. I mean, I mean, it’s, it’s a balancing act, isn’t it?

Because ultimately we are supposed to offer places of fun and enjoyment. However, we have to do that sadly, you know. Nowadays with the level of structure behind us. So we have a house rule in terms of cameras, which is no photographing, no filming, that’s a blanket, no, unless it’s overridden by a particular promoter.

Obviously we, we don’t allow food or alcohol in, and we manage that by doing bag checks. You know, sometimes we, we do pat downs as well, depending on what the show is. Again, that’ll be dictated sometimes by the promoter. And again, some of it is, is a bit confusing. Grey in area, you know, the, the latecomers policy will normally be dictated to by a promoter as well in terms of their, their terms and conditions.

Yeah. So we kind of have our fixed policy and we have, we have lots of detail in our small print on our terms and conditions about entry to the venue. And that’s always our fallback. You know, you, you sign up, you buy a ticket, you sign up to our terms and conditions by buying that ticket. And this is how we expect you to behave.

Sean: So we’re, we’re kind of. Nearly the opposite, Richie. So we do allow food in. We encourage our audiences, particularly during comedy nights, to use our in house cafe, bring your chicken and chips in, sit down and enjoy it during it. We do encourage, or don’t encourage alcohol to be brought in, but we do allow alcohol to be brought into the bar.

Auditorium as well. In terms of managing, we don’t have a specific policy, but we do have a three strike rule amongst the duty manager. So first strike, you’re spoken to by the duty manager. Second time you’re asked to leave by the third, by the duty manager and the third strike, security will lift you out of your seat if you do not leave.

But other than that, we don’t actually have a policy that’s communicated to our audience.

Richie: I think, yeah, I think you have to take every, every incident as an, as an, as an isolated really, don’t you? Because, um, you know, we, we had an incident last year where, uh, some audience members before the show even started were very rude to member of the front of house staff and there was no way, she was clearly upset about what they said.

So for me, that was a sorry, I’m not going to allow you entrance to the venue because you’ve acted inappropriately. Um, because ultimately my responsibility is to my staff members that are working for me. Um, So it’s not a written policy, but it was a reaction to an incident on the night that I needed to make a decision about.

And hence they, they got asked to leave with a gentle arm on their elbow.

Lucy: What’s the saying that you say, Richie, will you tell our listeners?

Richie: I say not in my house. You don’t act like that in my house, because ultimately you’re coming into my house. Um, you know, I am going to provide you with a great night’s worth of entertainment, a safe space to be.

You’re going to have a great night, but I also expect you to behave responsibly. And if you can’t behave responsibly, you’re not coming into my house. Um, and that’s kind of the way that I’ve, that’s my approach. And to be fair, I’ve worked in the late night industry since leaving school when I was 16. So that was a long time ago now.

And I’ve always held that kind of attitude, really, you know, it’s a two way relationship. And I will Do what I’ve promised to give you on the night, but you also need to meet me with that as well.

Lucy: I think that’s probably an analogy that, you know, anyone working in a theatre or a venue could kind of bring in as well.

It’s like, how do you build your house? You know, what, what are the foundations there? You know, is it isn’t an approach that that Dana will need to take because of the, you know, The demographics who are coming in, um, is it is it the same with Sean? You know in terms of bringing in in the food as well So we’re kind of coming to the the the part in in our episode where we’re trying to understand What is it that potentially we could look at in in terms of bringing some sort of?

Value to, uh, to the industry and, you know, what are the steps that we think need to be taken to kind of address this issue, if any at all, and to our panel, if there’s anything, I suppose, any of the tips or tools that you use internally, it would, it would be great to kind of. I think,

Richie: I think the one thing I would say always is just be consistent because most of the conflicts will come from customers not knowing what their expectation is for one show to the next.

So if your policy on cameras or the use of phones is, isn’t the same every show. then it, you know, you’ll, you’ll build in some potential conflict with your customers from day one. So just be very consistent in how you operate. So, you know, have your policies and processes in place. And over a period of time, customers will begin to understand it.

It’s a bit like I said about the bag checks, you know, customers come here now knowing that they’re going to get bag checks. And apart from the Chinese takeaway, you know, the amount of alcohol that people are trying to sneak in now is almost dropped off because they know they’re not going to take the risk, because they know that’s what’s going to happen when they get to the front door.

James: I think the use of the language within the terminology that you Uh that you use is something that we’ve definitely reflected upon over the last sort of 12 to 18 months is Trying to remain inclusive to continue to grow and develop audiences So not using the terms rules and things like that That’s something that works quite well for us and and we’ve adopted it as house guidelines Which is which has basically replaced faqs On our website.

So we’ve slightly merged the two things together because there was overlap and then ultimately promoted inconsistency in terms of language and what was being described. So sort of interrogating that and just zooming out and just thinking about so many different scenarios.

Dana: I think the idea of guidelines is really a nice way of thinking about it.

Rather than this harsh thing about rules because I think some if this is the first. Literally the first theater or the first gig that you’ve been to, how are you meant to, apart from like, obviously behaving how you would in a normal social manner. But a lot of the time it’s like, Oh, I just didn’t know. I really didn’t know that I couldn’t take photos.

You know, if I only go to music gigs, then I’m used to being able to take photos where if I go to the theater and someone tells me not to, I’m a bit surprised. So yeah, having those things set up. And. Yeah, maybe as you’ve been saying, like build, building an audience base, like creating a great experience that people keep coming back or making the experience accessible for them to keep coming back.

You suddenly don’t have to keep asking those questions like, Oh, I know my bags can be checked. I know what to expect. I know how to enter a venue. I know what it’s going to be like in there. Because I’ve experienced it before,

Richie: I think, I think I think this all goes back to how we started off is that every venue will be individual.

The demographic of audience will be very different to the next venue in the next town and you just have to do what feels right for the way that you operate your business at the end of the day. You know, we. Because of our, the nature of the size of the region theatre, you know, and some of the shows that we get in, you know, we have to have policies and processes in place because that’s the expectation of the promoters.

If I give an example, if we’ve got Paloma Faith coming back this year, she was here a couple years ago, you know, their security arrangement will be completely different to Tina Turner tribute show coming in, but from the customer’s perspective, as I said earlier, they just need the consistency of knowing what the expectation is when they buy their ticket.

Um, and that’s, that’s how we kind of manage it on a day by day and a show by show basis is just to be consistent with it. Um, and then you, you have your base level of how you operate your business. And then there’ll be different levels above that, depending on what the show is or the structure. Yeah. I’m sorry.

I think, I think, I think the confidence to, I think, uh, for, you know, we, the way we work here is we also have a duty manager on every show. We have a supervisor, so they are totally empowered from, from the senior management team to, to run the show and to keep everybody safe and, and to implement the, the, the policies that we have.

Um, and we will always back them up in that. So I, I think some of it is also about empowering your team. to make sure that that consistency is across the board as well. So they feel like they’ve got the right


Richie: manage difficult situations.

Lucy: Richie, I might hand it over to you and the rest of the panel just to put some kind of closing words on this topic.

Richie: Yeah, I mean for me, it’s very simple. Keep safe, you know, keep yourself safe, keep your staff members safe. Um, you know, Build good customer relationships so they want to come back and just give them a safe environment that they want to enjoy. Like I said earlier we are supposed to be places of fun and enjoyment and that’s always paramount to everything that we do.

Sean: Yeah I would agree with Richie on that um and definitely empower your team. Um, make sure your duty managers have the confidence to know that you’re going to back them. Whatever they make, whatever decision they make, you need to back them up to the customer.

Richie: Definitely.

James: I think it’s investing in staff and their training.

They are the people that interact with the audience before they see the show. And sometimes that’s the reason why lots of audience members come back. So that investment in the team is really, really key and quite important.

Dana: Yeah, 100%. I think if you’ve got a really strong team who are confident as well, who have experience, who are confident or feel confident around each other and, and know the kind of values of the building as well, if they’re invested in, in the building, then they’re more likely to, you know, To step in or, or create that environment that you want as an organization as well.

So yeah, making them feel empowered, um, to make decisions and yeah, duty manager as has just been said, I think super important.

Lucy: Great. Thank you. Well, I absolutely love to take this opportunity to just extend. Our gratitude on behalf of Ticket Solve and the Arts and Everything in Between podcast to our panelists who have come on today to talk about something that’s, that’s not an easy conversation at all, but it’s definitely the, you know, the responses that we’ve seen today on our live podcast, the responses from the survey, you know, what, We’d love to do is, you know, I think keep the topic alive as well.

Um, as much as we can, because I think when there’s an awareness as well, it does it, it empowers other people within the sector to kind of make. the most informed decisions, I guess, that they can at the moment that they might be experiencing a challenge. So a massive thank you to Richie Ross, Sean Kelly, James Randall, and Dana Macmillan.

Thank you so much.

Richie: No worries at all. Keep safe, everybody. Let’s have some fun, eh?

Oscar: This episode of The Arts and Everything in Between is brought to you by Ticket solve the audience centered all in one platform that unifies your organization. Get rich data to make strategic decisions that deliver outstanding audience experiences and foster strong relationships. Go further with best in class integrations that help you surpass your organizational objectives.

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