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Author Topic: Broadway’s Bathroom Problem:
Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1976
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011

 - posted 02-08-2017 01:23 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Broadway’s Bathroom Problem: Have to Go? Hurry Up, or Hold It

A revolution is taking place on Broadway, and not just at “Hamilton.”

Theater owners, confronted day after day by long lines of women (and, sometimes, men) clogging lobbies and snaking down stairwells while nervously waiting for an available bathroom, are excavating, annexing, converting and renovating their buildings to remedy the chronic inconvenience. The biggest landlords are also retraining ushers, experimenting with new methods of crowd control, and even reversing the genders on restrooms.

Broadway has never been busier — last season brought a record audience of 13.3 million people — and that means added pressure on its theaters. And nowhere are the grand but geriatric buildings weaker than in their paucity of bathroom facilities, particularly for women.

“I hate to say this, but it’s the standard everywhere,” Amy Braswell, 41, from Abingdon, Va., said while lined up for the bathroom in the mobbed upstairs lobby at the Brooks Atkinson Theater during intermission at “Waitress” last week. “I’m just used to waiting.”

Kate Hellman, 30, from Olathe, Kan., agreed: “Patience is definitely a virtue. Obviously, it would be great to have more stalls.”

Most Broadway theaters were built nearly a century ago, when consumer expectations and habits were different, and many of the buildings are landmarks, making structural change difficult.

Several factors work against the theater owners: Broadway houses seat from 600 to 1,900 people, many of whom want to relieve themselves during the same 15-minute period. Audiences are now 67 percent female, according to the Broadway League. And liquid consumption — both hydration and libation — has also changed.

A line for the women’s restroom before a recent matinee performance of “Waitress” at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Credit Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

“People didn’t eat and drink like they do today,” said Robert E. Wankel, the president of the Shubert Organization, which owns or operates 17 of Broadway’s 40 houses. “Now everybody runs to the restroom. It’s a part of going to the theater.”

As a result, theater owners have been overhauling their buildings one by one.

The Hudson Theater, last used for Broadway shows 49 years ago, is reopening this weekend (for “Sunday in the Park With George,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal) after a major renovation that included a significant increase in toilets, from 12 to 27 (16 for women, 11 for men). The theater’s new operator, the Ambassador Theater Group, converted an old men’s smoking lounge into restrooms, knocking through a wall to gain space, and then demolished a dress-circle level area previously used for air conditioning units to add more stalls.

The Helen Hayes Theater, now being renovated after being sold to the nonprofit Second Stage Theater, is also getting a major upgrade: The cramped women’s room, which had five toilets, has been demolished and will reopen with 10; the men’s room, which had one toilet and three urinals, will reopen with two toilets and four urinals. The theater is also adding two bathrooms with access for those with disabilities.

And more is ahead: Jujamcyn Theaters plans to add three additional women’s stalls, one men’s stall and three urinals to the St. James, as well as reconfigure that building’s lobby to allow bathroom lines to flow better, as it expands the theater between a run of “Present Laughter” and the much-anticipated stage adaptation of “Frozen.” The Nederlander Organization expects to renovate the Palace Theater, currently home to a revival of “Sunset Boulevard,” as part of a development project that will involve lifting the theater 29 feet and will create more space for bathrooms. And the Shuberts anticipate renovations at three theaters: the Ambassador, the Cort and the Lyceum.

The challenge is clearly visible these days at many shows, including “Waitress,” a hit musical that, with a story about empowerment, a song about pregnancy testing and a joke about estrogen asphyxiation, is drawing a heavily female crowd.

At one evening performance last week, the line for women zigzagged from one side of the mezzanine to the other and back again, contained by ropes, organized by ushers, overflowing into stairwells, hemmed in by a bar. Two ushers controlled the line; a third stood at the bathroom entrance directing women to specific stalls.

“We do this eight times a week,” an usher said. “We have a system.”

As the lights dimmed for Act II to begin, an usher sent six women still waiting in line to the men’s room.

That scene has been playing out throughout the run of the show — at a matinee performance last year, several women sitting in the orchestra section bolted down the aisle as soon as “Bad Idea,” the final song in the first act, began to play; during the intermission, ushers were radioing stage managers to give updates about the line progress.

“This is dangerous — a man almost pushed me down the stairs,” Bonnie Young of Philadelphia said as she slowly moved ahead. Carol Kauffmann, also of Philadelphia, said she was going to dash over to a nearby restaurant and offer them $10 to let her use the bathroom. “It’s my birthday, and my girlfriends brought me to a fancy lunch,” she said. “I have to pee.”

Most Broadway theaters were built in the early 20th century, and featured spaces where men could smoke and women could rest or touch up their makeup, but limited stalls, because women, based on the customs of the times and the complexity of their garments (corsets, anyone?), were less likely to use public toilets, theater owners say.

Now, when there is a break between productions, and sometimes even while a longtime show is still running, the theater owners try to add stalls. Shubert has increased the number of women’s stalls in its houses over time to 265 from 114. Jujamcyn added 46 women’s stalls at its five houses.

“It’s an issue in every theater, for every theater owner,” said Nick Scandalios, the executive vice president of Nederlander, which has nine Broadway theaters. Nederlander has just finished adding 14 stalls at the Minskoff Theater — not an easy task to pull off while the long-running “The Lion King” fills the house six days a week.

“Every time we restore or renovate, we’re always adding as many stalls as we can within the limitation of the square footage we have, but you can never add enough,” Mr. Scandalios said.

The availability and accessibility of restrooms in public spaces have become public policy issues, prompting changes in design practices and a flurry of so-called “potty parity” laws.

“This is an issue that discriminates against women, who have to spend most of the intermission waiting in line and can’t enjoy the other amenities,” said Kathryn H. Anthony, a specialist on gender-related design issues at the architecture school of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “And it’s not a pleasant way to end Act I, from a psychological point of view — having to dart to the restroom to try to avoid the line does divert your attention from what’s onstage.”

The issue is forcing creative approaches. At the 1,079-seat Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, Shubert spent months digging beneath the orchestra and under an alley, even building a ramp for an excavating machine, to find space to increase the number of women’s stalls from 8 to 20.

A mezzanine locker room for ushers was turned into a women’s room. The theater got permission from the city’s Buildings Department to relocate fire protection equipment to create more space, and added a staircase in the hope of reducing congestion.

Jujamcyn added more women’s stalls to each of its theaters during renovations from 1990 to 2000. At the Al Hirschfeld Theater, the company switched the bathrooms, converting the large men’s room in the basement, which had a smoking lounge and a bar, into a women’s room, and remaking the upstairs women’s room, which had few stalls but many counters and mirrors for nose-powdering, into a men’s room.

Some patrons, meanwhile, have resorted to creative alternatives.

Carter A. Prescott, a regular theatergoer, will seek out a nearby Starbucks or a hotel bar — she likes the Crowne Plaza Times Square — in a pinch, finding it faster than lining up with fellow audience members.

Inside the theater, she said: “You just see endless women, and no men of course, and then some women go into the men’s room. You don’t want to get to the point where you’re wearing Depends.”

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Jonathan M. Crist
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 524
From: Hershey, PA, USA
Registered: Apr 2000

 - posted 02-08-2017 01:39 AM      Profile for Jonathan M. Crist   Email Jonathan M. Crist   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Since 1990 Pennsylvania has what has been dubbed "The Potty Parity Law". This requires two female potties for every male pot, separte urinal or 6" of urinal trough.

Makes it tough on older theatres - especially when you add in the minimums of modern building codes plus the handicapped requirements of the ADA.

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

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From: Annapolis, MD
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 02-08-2017 06:04 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Back when I was the projectionist of the K-B Silver in the early '80s...we had the movie REDS. This film was over 3-hours and had an intermission. It was a VERY popular movie and it was released for the winter "Oscar" season.

The Silver was/is a 1930s Art Deco theatre that had about 980-seats (it was a suburban house so nothing like the downtown palaces of the day). The men's room had one toilet and 2 urinals. The ladies room had two toilets. Now think about that. We have 980 people that, all at once, are going to head towards a relatively small lobby (could hold maybe 150 people tightly). They had to literally line people up, prop the front doors open and line them out and down the sidewalk, in the cold, to wait their turn in the bathrooms.

Mind you, this theatre was built when intermissions were semi-common. There are times when regulations do make some sense and having sufficient facilities for the crowds you plan to accommodate is one of them. The AFI/Silver has significantly more "devices" and notably fewer seats. Yet I bet they still probably have a bit of a "rush hour" if the timing of things work against them.

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Louis Bornwasser
Film God

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From: prospect ky usa
Registered: Mar 2005

 - posted 02-08-2017 07:29 AM      Profile for Louis Bornwasser   Author's Homepage   Email Louis Bornwasser   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Our local Performing Arts Center has the same problem. As soon as all the men are done, the women's line is broken out and aimed at the men's room. So: two women's rooms.

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Martin McCaffery
Film God

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From: Montgomery, AL
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 02-08-2017 03:05 PM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I found an article from 1912 about a new theatre opening in Montgomery. One of the things they brag about is having the first ladies room in a movie theatre.
Given the average showtime in 1912 was about 30mins it's not surprising. And, of course, in those days it was considered perfectly proper for men to go piss in the alley.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 02-12-2017 02:06 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
When my theatre opened in 1930 they touted the deluxe feature of a restroom for women. There was no men's room. There was also no concession stand, so bathrooms were less necessary.

In 1953 the concession was added, and they converted a broom closet into a makeshift men's room. It's probably the smalllest restroom in the state if not the nation. We've devised various ways to enlarge it over the years but it always involves moving walls, which we can't do without running afoul of the ADA.

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