Broadway's August Wilson Theatre Gets New Ergonomic Seating in Whirlwind Replacement Job
By Kenneth Jones
Audiences at Broadway's Jersey Boys have been more at home than ever in the past month following the Jan. 8-10 installation of firmer seat cushions in the 1,250-seat auditorium of the August Wilson Theatre.
The Wilson, on 52nd Street, became the first theatre in North America to use ProBax brand seating technology, an ergonomic addition to the venue. "Dual density foams" encourage "an anatomically correct posture," reducing "back ache and muscle fatigue from sitting."
Ian More, CEO of the company NuBax, which owns the ProBax technology, told Playbill.com that the additional result of a more upright posture is more comfortable leg space — your knees aren't jammed to the seatback in front of you.
The technology is used in the automotive industry and in theatres abroad.
"We are constantly improving and constantly enhancing the experience for our audiences," Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, told Playbill.com on a recent visit to the Wilson, one of five Jujamcyn venues on Broadway. "Certainly, seating is a huge part of that because our audiences spend most of their time with us sitting down watching our show, so we want them to be as comfortable and joyful as possible."
Roth explained, "I first read about these seats online. They had put them in a theatre in the U.K. and my ears perked up, my eyes perked up, and I thought, 'We need to dig into this.' We had already been exploring re-seating the Wilson. One of the blessings of a long-running show is that the theatre takes a lot of wear, and we want it to always be in top shape for every night for every audience member. So we were focused on re-seating. This turned out to be an opportunity not just to replace, but to enhance."
The replacement of every seat cushion and seatback at the Wilson — from orchestra to mezzanine — happened between the end of the Sunday, Jan. 8 Jersey Boys matinee and the start of the Tuesday, Jan. 10 evening performance.
"The [time] limitations were a unique challenge and one that we were able to accomplish through some really great planning of our team and a remarkable crew here at the August Wilson," Roth said. "The matinee ended on Sunday. At about seven o'clock, work began — worked well into the night. Started again on Monday — all day, all night. Started again Tuesday morning, and by about noon-one o'clock, we were all set and ready to go."
Roth said that a burnished red color was chosen for the seats to complement the colors in the design of the auditorium. "We very specifically didn't do the sort of straight-ahead red velvet," he said. "The first experience with the seats is what they look like. They [have] a sort of sumptuous color and feeling, and that, for me, is a very inviting thing — to come into the theatre and see where I'm going. And then, when you sit in them, for me, I feel it immediately. I feel more supported in my body. …The true magic of these seats is what they feel like over the length of the performance — that they keep you feeling much more comfortable, much less fidgety, and much more able to focus on what you came to enjoy."
Moore said the changes in the seating are in the cushion, not in the backs of the seats. Don't expect a bulge pressing into your lumbar region.
"You have a very, very good lumbar," Moore said. "It's called your spine. If you let it do its job properly, by correcting the position of the pelvis, then you can do away with mechanical devices or great, big lumps of foam in the middle of the back. And, the great advantage is, it can be done without changing the seat dimensions, design or appearance…"
ProBax seating is already available in a number of legit theatres in London's West End, in cinema chains all across Europe and in health-related venues such as nursing homes and conference centers. There are also automotive and aviation applications for the cushions.
Jujamcyn Theaters, founded in 1956, owns and operates five theatres on Broadway — the St. James, Al Hirschfeld, August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Walter Kerr.
Playbill Video was on the scene at the August Wilson Theatre to get the story about the venue's new ergonomic seating. Jujamcyn Theaters president Jordan Roth and NuBax CEO Ian Moore explain it all.
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