Misadventures on Broadway – A Roar Back at the King of the Jungle

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Ian Gotts

How draconian processes and procedures made columnist Ian Gotts’ Broadway experience less "King"ly than expected.

I was recently in New York on holiday and took a very excited family to see the Lion King. The production itself is absolutely fantastic: the drama, the costumes, the scenery, the lighting, the music. Theatrically, it was an onslaught on the senses and exceeded expectation in so many ways. But especially in the abhorrent customer experience that we had there.

While the product itself was fantastic, it is a shame that the production lets itself down by transforming what should be a fun evening out into something akin to going through airport security through draconian processes and procedures.

Firstly, the work "please" seems to have been dropped from the vocabulary of the staff and other attendees. Presumably because they want to appear that they are so busy and critically important that they can’t spare the time for such pleasantries?

I am Lion, hear me roar

Secondly, we suffered long delays getting into the theatre as the ushers performed a perfunctory search of bags and then aggressively policing jackets, bags and programmes left on the floor and between seats. They seem to be modelling themselves on the TSA (US Transport Security Administration) who have made security screening at airports a farce of pointless aggressive abuse of my personal space. (This will be the topic of my next blog titled "Airport security in America is broken" which is based on an article of the same name in the Wall Street Journal by Kip Hawley, Head of the TSA).

While we have come to accept long delays in the name of security at airports, I would argue that it is unacceptable in other areas of our life – especially in the entertainment industry. Surely they can come up with a more pleasant way of both ensuring the safety of theatre-goers but also not making us feel like criminals?

And finally, and perhaps more importantly, they employ people who are constantly vigilant for cameras. It is actually someone’s job to stop people taking photographs. And they don’t do this in a nice way, before the show even started, the aggressive zeal with which staff pursued "image-based offenses" was a wonder to watch. God only knows what the reaction would have been if a camera were spotted during the performance.

This got me thinking. Why are they stopping people taking photographs? What are they trying to prevent? In an era of social media it would seem to me that they would want to encourage people to spread the word about how fantastic their product is. Surely no photograph – especially a poorly shot one on a mobile phone - can capture the real experience of the 3 hour performance? Indeed, surely it would only whet the appetite to buy a ticket when supported by an enthusiastic recommendation?

I wonder if their PR and marketing teams understand the damage that their colleagues are doing? To me this is an example of processes gone mad. The security and "camera-hunting zeal" result in a negative experience for customers and also detract from the efforts of the marketing teams whose job would be made easier if customers were allowed to spread the word about the fantastic product on social media to recommend and refer the Lion King to our friends and colleagues.

Certainly they are not protecting an income stream. A quick search "Lion King musical" on Google gives 11.7million images most of them far better than any taken by an amateur photographer in Seat Y124. And they are not selling photographs in the foyer….

What a missed opportunity. But it is probably a classic internal conflict which is found inside many organisations who are struggling to evolve and understand how to harness the power of social media and personal recommendation.