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What’s In Your Bathroom?

04.19.10 | 6 Comments


CATEGORIES audiences, conversation starter, ideas, marketing, presenting, storefront theatre

I’m sure they’re clean.  I’m sure you’re a good host.  I’m sure they’re stocked with ample and appropriate paper products for your anticipated audience, and that the plumbing works.  Is that it?

A few weeks ago, I wrote how theater lobbies are often functional, neutral spaces—closer in design and function to a waiting room or an office reception area than the entryway to someone’s home.  Décor, if there is any, often consists of signs and headshots that simply promote the company to those who have already ventured inside—like a home with nothing but college degrees and family portraits on the walls.  I understand the pride in past shows, and the pride that went into designing the posters, but is there anything else that can profoundly decorate the place? 

A few examples:

The Violet Hour is—well, technically it’s a bar, but I definitely see it competing with theaters in Chicago as far as providing a perishable, sensory, social experience.  (I’ll write more about why in another post.)  In each bathroom stall at The Violet Hour, as well as above each urinal, is a framed sign with its House Rules:

Posting the “house rules” in the bathroom makes them playful as well as honest—something to be honored, but something not so serious compared to if the list appeared on the menu or outside the front door.

Victory’s Banner is a popular vegetarian breakfast-and-lunch place in Chicago with an overtly meditation-based spiritual angle.  The place is cozy, the bathroom is cozy, and framed on a table inside is the following poem:

The poem appears, deliberately, in the bathroom, not on the menu or in the front window.

Feed, another breakfast spot, has a Lucky Eggs game of chance in its “lobby.”  Its bathroom walls feature photos of customers who won the golden egg.

What poem belongs in the bathroom at your theater?

What manifesto belongs above the urinal?

Even neighborhood-bar bathroom advertising, which can be annoyingly or charmingly tacky, is there to inform and delight.  It’s something.

What non-functional object—poem, poster, manifesto, thing—would make the bathroom, the experience of going to your theater, memorable?  What best suits your company?

After all, the photos of the bathrooms above are all ones that I found online, posted by patrons

Bathroom at the Neo-Futurarium, Chicago. The men's room walls have portraits of the men in the company, the women's room has portraits of the women.

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Hat tip to Tom Peters, who opens his new book The Little Big Things with a shout-out to his bathroom of choice:

It’s clean-to-sparkling. (Come to think of it, despite the invariably crowded shop, I have never seen even the tiniest scrap of paper on the bathroom floor.) Fresh flowers are the norm. And best of all, there is a great multigenerational collection of family pictures that cover the walls; rushed though I typically am, I invariably spend an extra minute examining one or another, smiling at a group photo from a local company dinner, or some such, circa 1930 I’d guess.)

Eric Ziegenhagen

Eric Ziegenhagen is an arts consultant, theatre artist, and musician based in Chicago.

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  • Great post. I think after a friendly, engaging box office staff, this is the biggest thing small co's need to work on when crafting an experience for audiences.

    No one wants to go somewhere with a filthy bathroom.

  • monicareida

    Now I want to go into the bathrooms at the Neo-Futurarium.

    There are some bathrooms I've been in in theaters in Iowa that are scary, to be honest. But one bathroom at a theater company has signs that are small, orange and say in black letters “All employees must wash hands before returning to work.” This stands out against the black walls, but it strikes me as interesting because none of the other theaters that I've been to see a play at have those signs. (This is probably because they serve hor d'ourves in their lounge and prepare them at the theater.)

    But having interesting things in the bathroom does bring a uniqueness to a venue and can make it seem more inviting.

  • I like it. Any thoughts on how companies that rent space could implement such ideas without creating a massive burden for the front-of-house staff?

  • Dianna

    Trap Door's bathroom is awesome.

  • If you’ve ever enjoyed watching a time-lapse video of something being built then you will understand what I mean when I say that taking pictures of your small bathroom remodelling project in their development can be great fun.

  • Something not so serious compared to if the list appeared on the menu or outside the front door.


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