insights bar

Dropping In

Oslo Opera House

My colleagues and I have been considering programming that invites drop-in visitors to experience performing arts without having purchased a ticket in advance. This line of thought was realized both personally and professionally when I had the opportunity to travel to Norway earlier this year to conduct observational research at Globusfestivalen, an annual festival celebrating culinary traditions and performances from around the world. The festival format provides ample avenues for drop-in participation and we observed a wide range of intentionality and planning among attendees. Some attendees had carefully curated their experience, purchasing advanced online tickets for food booths and meeting friends at pre-selected programs. For other attendees, the Festival seemed to have piqued their interest by chance. While they may have stumbled upon it, they walked slowly through, taking in all of its sights and sounds. Because the Festival created opportunities for spontaneous participation, it was able to reach individuals who might never have sought out the experience.

I myself was pushed towards a new experience through impromptu participation the day after the Festival. While in Oslo, I stopped by the Oslo Opera House to see Snøhetta’s iconic building. When I arrived, I was not alone. Both inside and out, the building was teeming with people walking up to the roof to see the city views or visiting the lobby, taking time to admire the intricate interplay of glass and wood.  As I pulled my eyes away from the architecture, I noticed a smaller, yet distinct, group of people beginning to flow through the doors. They were dressed for the opera and I realized that a performance must be beginning shortly. I took out my phone to see what was scheduled and it occurred to me that I may be able to stay and join them. It turned out there were seats available for two programs about to commence: Queen of Spades and a short chamber concert with music by Janáček, Ligeti, and Dvorak. Not quite ready to make a four-hour commitment on a whim or sure that my attire would suffice, I opted for the chamber concert. I purchased a ticket and followed a line of young Norwegians into to the small black box theater. The room was abuzz with conversation, nearly everyone else in the audience seemed to be a musician and most seemed to know one another. While I felt a bit like I had just snuck into a place I wasn’t supposed to be, as the lights dimmed and the concert began, any hesitance faded away and I relished my surprise experience.

While I’ll confess, I would not have selected the program for myself had I been browsing the annual brochure, the musical experience that was unexpectedly added to my architectural tour felt like a small gift. I thought about what a serendipitous time I had picked to tour the opera house and I thought back to conversations with my colleagues about how to build in programming that intentionally supports this type of experience. What if the steady stream of visitors admiring the architecture were directly invited to stay and purchase one of the unsold seats? Or perhaps able to view a live video feed when rehearsals are taking place inside the main hall?

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