Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
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This week's question comes from Sharon in Baltimore.
Question: As regular theatergoers, both Broadway and regional, my friends and I wonder why there is never a Row "I" in the theatre. Rows always go from H to J. Answer: A quick scan through theatre seating charts does indeed find that theatres tend not to have a Row I. The reason is, said Jimmy Godsey, the Public Theater's Director of Ticketing Services, via a Public Theater spokesperson, "Simply, [the letter] I looks like a [number] one to ushers and box office."
Godsey also pointed out that it isn't just seat number one in each row that could create confusion. There are lots more ones than you think, since the numbers in the center section of many theatres are in the 100s — 101, 102, etc.
A spokesperson for the Shubert Organization confirmed that the confusion with the numeral one is indeed the reason why most of its theatres have no Row I. Those theatres have had no Row Is for as long as the workers in the Shubert theatre operations department can remember, and that means several decades.
Almost all Broadway theatres have no Row I, but there are some holdouts. In both the Broadway and the Jacobs, there is a Row I in the orchestra section, but Row I is skipped in the mezzanine. Off-Broadway theatres also tend to skip Row I.
Some theatres have omitted other rows as well. The Jacobs skips Row Q in the orchestra. The New Amsterdam skips Row I and Row O, as does the Walter Kerr and the Marquis. The Neil Simon skips Row I and Row Q. (We're going to ignore the quirks that occur at the far ends of the alphabet in many theatres, including double-lettered rows such as AA or ZZ).
It's pretty easy to see what's going on here — O and Q can get confused. A spokesperson for Mary Poppins, which is at the New Amsterdam, said that the theatre is actually concerned with confusion with the numeral zero, and specifically with the instances in which ushers and audience members are trying to look at the tickets and find seats in the dark during a show. The New Victory, a children's theatre on 42nd Street, also skips Row O (in addition to Row I) because of its confusion with zero, according to a spokesperson.
In London, not surprisingly, things get even weirder. The National Theatre's Olivier Theatre and Lyttelton Theatre skip Rows I, Q and N — presumably because N looks and sounds like M. The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which currently houses The Lord of the Rings, skips Rows I, Q and V. In the Palace Theatre, which houses Monty Python's Spamalot, the stalls (a.k.a. orchestra) include Row I but skip Rows Q and U, the dress circle (mezzanine) includes Row I, but the balcony skips Row I. Presumably, the similarity between U and V is also an issue.
Of related interest: Sports stadiums skip rows, too. For instance, Yankees Stadium skips Rows I, O and Q.