A new study, conducted by design company Theatre Projects Consultants, reports that (surprise), Americans are getting bigger--and so are our theater seats.
A typical theater seat in 2010, the study notes, was 23" wide and 38" away from the back of the seat in front or behind it. Compare that to a 20" seat with 33" separation in 1990. Take it back to the end of the 1800s and you have 18"-wide seats with 24" of separation
The size isn't just a commentary on our size and expectations of comfort. There's an economic impact for the theaters.
A space that, could contain ten of today's seats would have handled 13 seats in 1990 and twenty seats in 1900. To get specific, American Airlines Theatre in New York holds 740 seats since its 2000 renovation. When it originally opened in 1918 as the Selwyn Theatre, it had 1,180 seats.
The study notes another downside:
"The theater designer can now fit half the seats (and patrons) in the same footprint as a century ago. Lower seating density means reduced intimacy, and less attention and 'energy' returned to the performer. Our colleague Iain Mackintosh asks'“What does this then mean for the actor?' and answers himself 'It means that in a space loosely packed with expensive seats a full house gives the response received from a half house at the old densities.'"