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When A Long Line Is A Good Thing

09.10.10 | 1 Comment


CATEGORIES audiences, conversation starter, ideas, non-profit theatre, storefront theatre

Every Friday—really, consistently, every Friday—at noon, you’ll find a line around the corner at Hot Doug’s. Folks in line take photos. Here are a few.

Every Friday night—really, consistently, every Friday—at 11 p.m. you’ll find a line around the corner at the Neo Futurists, for their 30-plays-in-an-hour show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. Photos here and here and here. None of these photos reflect a complaint about the line.

What’s happening here?  A few thoughts.

1 The line is about efficiency, not disorder. You never feel like the line has been held up by disorganization or poor management.

2. At the front of the line is impeccable service. Anticipating a full room every Friday, both of these venues make their procedures and policies clear.

3. The people you meet at the front of the line are the people who created the experience that drew you into the line. Doug Sohn is always behind the register when Hot Doug’s is open. A Neo-Futurist is always working the front door at the Neo-Futurists.

4. The line is part of the ride, part of the anticipation. As with a roller coaster, both of these venues have a limited capacity. As long as all indications are that the system is working, the wait—the mouth-watering, the combination of tedium and excitement, the tension before the release—leads to a feeling of accomplishment when actually making it through the door.

5. The price is right. Neither venue accepts reservations, so there’s an egalitarian feeling to everyone waiting in line.

6. The hours suit the staff. Doug is always behind the counter at Hot Doug’s. The Neo-Futurists are always behind the counter at their venue. The hours are limited to when they are available, versus creating an experience with more hours and hired help.

7. The work is handmade. The exchange of money is with a person creating the goods. That person can’t deal with everyone, personally, at once. You leave Hot Doug’s not having just eaten there, but having met the proprietor.  You leave Too Much Light having seen the show but also having personally met some of the people who made it.  When that transaction is clear, the line makes sense.

Both of these venues are a home for the proprietor, the artisan. They reflect the values and aesthetic of the folks who worked so hard to make the work, get the permits, paint the walls, set the hours, and open shop. The lines reflect their success, their service, their empathy, their awareness of audience experience combined with their own needs. The experience of a Friday lunch at Hot Doug’s doesn’t begin with the duck-fat fries; it begins with seeing the line as you approach the venue. Too Much Light doesn’t begin when the lights come up onstage. As you approach the venue, and see the crowd, the show they offer has already begun.

Both are worlds apart from a ticket-buying process that feels like a waiting room, a bureaucracy, or a venue that can’t handle the traffic.

Eric Ziegenhagen

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

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  • JFT

    What would be great is if the Neo-Futurists showed up at Hot Doug’s to entertain those folks waiting in that long line. And Doug could do the same at the Neo-Futurarium by selling hot dogs Friday nigths.


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