Seating controversy brewing in theater

HOUSTON The Broadway series draws a lot of theater goers to the Hobby Center, but the talk among some audience members is on next year's seats. In some cases season ticket holders are finding their seats are a lot farther back from the stage than they are used to.

When it comes to good theater seats at the Hobby Center, Denise Stillwagon has them.

She explained, "Our current seats are in row E, seats 106 and 107, and those are five rows from the stage in the center."

Stillwagon says it has taken years to get those seats but when she renewed her tickets for the next season, Stillwagon will be paying the same price for seats that are 10 rows further back.

"Next year instead of row E, our seats are going to be in row O," she said.

Basic information on the seat assignment change was included in the flyer for the 2010-2011 season, but Stillwagon says she and many other theater goers did not notice it. Stillwagon found out about the seating change at a recent Hobby Center show.

"Everyone was talking, where did you get moved to, where did you get moved to," Stillwagon said.

According to Hobby Center officials, many Broadway series shows next year will run one week instead of two. That means some season ticket holders are on the move.

Hobby Center Executive Director Fran Macferran explained, "All of the subscribers need to be reseated, particularly for the most popular performances, Friday and Saturday night, which are fully subscribed."

Macferran says the theater knew consolidating shows and seat assignments would make some season ticket holders angry. Macferran say season ticket holders can try to get better seats by renewing now because some season ticket holders may choose not to renew, thus opening up better seats.

"Once people make an initial payment and get themselves in the queue to be upgraded, if they are not happy with the seats they are offered them, once we engage in the upgrade process we will give them a full refund," Macferran said.

We are told seat assignments were based on two criteria: the number of years a person has been a season ticket holder and if they contributed to the Hobby Center building campaign.

In terms of pricing, Hobby Center officials say as long as a person's seats are in the same general area as before, the price remains the same. For instance, it doesn't matter where in the orchestra section you sit, the price is the same.

The seating changes apply only to the Broadway series. Theatre Under the Stars performances are not affected.

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