Last night we went to Ranga Shankara in JP Nagar to watch a play. Thanks to unusually heavy traffic on 11th Main Road Jayanagar, we reached there only at 7 pm (the play was due to start at 7:30), and there was already a long line at the foot of the stairs waiting to be let in.
For the uninitiated, Ranga Shankara follows “free seating” also known as “Air Deccan seating”. There are no seat numbers – in fact the seats are themselves not clearly demarcated – there are long tiered rows of cushioned benches on which you sit. So the seats are essentially filled on a first come first served basis. This enables Ranga Shankara to to fill up the benches in good time once people are let in, and the show can begin on time. Also, unlike Air Deccan, Ranga Shankara sees high social capital so people don’t jostle and fight for seats.
As we walked in and picked up our tickets (after showing our e-tickets), the wife said that there was no point joining the queue as we would be so far behind that there was no chance of us getting good seats. So we might as well eat before the play started, she reasoned. So off we went to the adjoining Ranga Shankara Cafe and thulped Sabudana Vada and coffee. The pricing was premium but the food and coffee were very good.
As we were gulping down our coffee, preparing to possibly join the queue, the wife spotted the renowned actor Mukhyamantri Chandru near the entrance of the theatre. We presently saw him posing for selfies with some people, and we have to do the same, we reasoned.
Chandru turned out to be an incredibly warm and nice person and enthusiastically talked to us for ten minutes. We told him that we’re major fans of his Ramanamurthy role in Ganeshana Madhuve. He asked us to come for the performance of Mukhyamantri (which gave him his name) today, but we told him that we’ve already seen the play.
We got talking about theatre and cinema and how acting is different in the two. Chandru told us that in a play an actor has to constantly play a dual role – one role is the role that he is playing in the play, and the second is that of a manager. It is inevitable that some slips happen during the course of the play, he mentioned, and what makes acting in a theatre tough is that you need to course correct on the fly without giving away to the audience that you’ve slipped up.
By the time we were done talking to Chandru, the line had cleared and the bell rang indicating that there were 10 minutes to go for the play. “You better hurry”, he told us, “else you’ll have to sit in the last row”. We didn’t bother particularly hurrying and it was the last row where we sat (there were seats available at the peripheries of forward rows but we wanted to watch the play from a central position to chose to sit in the last row instead).
Now I might have watched about 10 plays in Ranga Shankara, and sat in different positions to watch each one of them. There have been plays where I’ve sat right in the middle of one of the forward rows (the best seats in the house), and ones like yesterday where I’ve either sat right at the back or at one of the peripheries of the baseball-diamond shaped theatre. And what I realised is that the experience from each of these positions is near-identical!
In other words, the design of Ranga Shankara is so good that you are likely to have a great experience irrespective of where in the hall you sit! Or that the experience from the last row is not much inferior to that from one of the best seats in the house!
Yet, every play I’ve gone to I’ve seen a long line build up at the foot of the stairs before the play begins. It is as if people don’t believe that experience in the inferior seats is not very inferior to that of the experience in the best seats in the house, and are thus willing to pay a high price (time spent waiting in queue) to get the marginally better seats!
I don’t know if I’ve miscalculated on the relative merits of different seats in the house, or if the “market” (the rest of the people who stand in line) has got the pricing wrong! I’ll probably experiment a few more times at Ranga Shankara by not bothering to stand in line!