Some Considerations on Measuring Rates of Attendance in the Playhouse
This article aims to ask some methodological questions and to identify the categories needed to define the scope of such a study. We hope that these calculations can be performed by the database in the future. These observations were presented at a workshop held in New York in October of 2014.
The calculation of the “room occupancy rate” must be based on a capacity estimate. This measure is important as a basis for calculating the success or failure of a play. It is commonly accepted that the room could hold 2000 people before the Revolution. (See in particular Claude Alasseur, La Comédie-Française au XVIIIe siècle. Etude économique). But we must distinguish between the capacity of individual seating (individual tickets sold) and the capacity of the loges. Indeed, in the case of the loges, the calculation varies depending on the period. Sometimes the seats in the boxes are sold individually and are thus quantifiable (notably at the beginning of the period and at the very end), sometimes the boxes are sold whole. In the latter case we cannot know exactly how many seats they could contain, nor if they were necessarily full each evening. Moreover, we cannot count the total capacity given that the data is very uncertain in regards to the loges rented by the year as well as free entries, which were certainly numerous (actors and their guests, authors, personalities given free entry). By capacity, we mean the capacity of individual tickets sold each evening and the number of loges sold each evening (not the number of spectators in the loges), excluding of course the loges bought by the year, for which the attendance cannot be counted, since they do not appear in the registers.
Notes on the number of seats per loge : it is commonly accepted that there could be 8 people in each loge. This is notably how Lancaster calculates the attendance. Lagrave cites Réflexions historiques et critiques sur les différents théâtres de l’Europe (Paris, Jacques Guérin, 1738, pp 135-136). In 1738, the theater was equipped with two doors where the attendants distributed tokens in exchange for the tickets. The spectator would then enter the audience hall. The spectators in the theater, the pit and the amphitheater did not have assigned seating, but those in the loges did: “The tokens go to attendants who open the loges, show the spectators inside. They then close the loges when they contain eight people, four in the front and four in the back, which makes up the number that each loge can contain. In this way, there can be eight people in a loge, often men and women who do not know each other.”
Nevertheless, the document below about the Salle des Tuileries, which counts the number of loges and the number of seats per loge compared with the future playhouse at the Faubourg Saint-Germain, shows that things had changed by the 1770s. It therefore seems risky to generalize by systematically counting 8 people per loge.
At the Tuileries, daily loges contained from 4 people to 30 people (third Loge No. 16 on the Queen's side). At the future Faubourg Saint-Germain, they contained from 8 to 72 (fourth Loge No. 13 on the Queen's side). We should add to this the number of seats in the loges rented by the year, which are not mentioned in the register. This same document shows that the loges rented by year could contain 404 people at the Tuilleries and 396 people at the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
These calculations depend on the buildings occupied, and on the building improvements that aimed to increase the number of seats and loges carried out in the theater. The capacity of individual seats can be obtained for each theater, with the totals for each seat category. Although the limitations mentioned above prevent us from knowing exact capacities, we can arrive at reasonable estimates based on performances with the highest recorded revenues for each playhouse.
Théâtre de la rue de Guénégaud, performance on 21 July 1682: 793 tickets and 5 first loges sold.
Théâtre rue des Fossés Saint-Germain, performance on 16 March 1720: 1098 tickets, 24 low loges and 22 high loges sold.
Théâtre des Tuileries: capacity of 1738 spectators overall (see document above).
Théâtre-Français au Faubourg Saint-Germain: capacity of 1772 spectators (see document above).
Aside from the performance on 7 January 1793 (with 522 loge spaces leased and 1416 individual tickets sold) this shows that the total capacity is at least 1938 people.
To determine the capacity of each playhouse, and therefore the “fullness” of the room, regardless of the period, we must distinguish between quantifiable information (tickets) and less accurate information (number of loges sold).
Workshop New York, octobre 2014
(Trans. Marie de Azevedo)