FAQ­­ – Final Phase of War Memorial Opera House Seat Upgrade Project

The seats are original to the historic 1932 building and are due for replacement and modernization. While maintenance on these seats over the years has included reupholstering and some renovation to the Orchestra section chairs, the seats have been an ongoing and major source of patron complaints. The project will also create additional accessible seating areas. Improving comfort and accessibility for patrons is a priority for San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, and the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.

This is the third and final phase of the seat upgrade project, which began in summer of 2013, when the Box seats were first replaced. The Balcony and Balcony Circle seats were subsequently upgraded in 2015. This final phase of the project, beginning on May 17, 2021 and ending in August 2021, will include all remaining seats in the Orchestra, Grand Tier, and Dress Circle seating sections of the War Memorial Opera House. The Opera House will reopen on September 10, 2021 with the opening night of San Francisco Opera’s 2021–22 Season. Programming for SF Ballet’s 2020 season will not be affected by the seating upgrade project.

The new seats will provide better comfort by providing more legroom, lifting and widening the cushion area and using sculpted dense foam to provide support. The new seats will also improve sightlines to the stage through modest adjustments to the seat layout, staggering the seats along the center aisle. The new seats will be designed to preserve the historic look and feel of the War Memorial Opera House.

Accessibility for patrons will be improved with additional seating options. Patrons with disabilities and patrons using wheelchairs can choose from new accessible seating areas in the left and right Orchestra sections, in addition to the existing center rear Orchestra accessible seating.

Threshold Acoustics has been engaged to consult on the acoustic impact of the seating upgrades. They took baseline measurements of the existing condition and, without affecting reverberation times, the seating upgrade will improve the audience experience and deliver a more present acoustic, allowing audience feedback to be felt more directly throughout the house. The measurements will be used as they relate to the selection of seat materials which have a direct impact on acoustic quality. While subject to change, it is most likely that plush seat backs will be replaced with wooden seat backs.

Seats will be designed for comfort and support to a wider range of body types. The historic nature and beauty of the Opera House will also be reflected in the overall seat design choices including wood tone, design details, and aesthetics.

In addition to installing upgraded seats, the project includes improved aisle lighting, floor repair, carpet replacement and greater dispersion of wheelchair seating locations by the addition of new accessible seating areas.

There will be some limited seat loss in the Orchestra section, resulting in an approximate 2% reduction in the number of seats in the house. The seat loss is related to efforts to improve sightlines through staggered placement in the center Orchestra sections and the addition of the wheelchair accessible platforms in the side sections.

With the exception of the addition of the new side Orchestra accessible seating areas, the overall layout will remain the same, including the location of all aisles. No locations or sections are changing names.

The basic seat numbering scheme will remain the same, with odd-numbered seats on House Left and even-numbered seats on House Right. Row locations and alphabetical indicators will also remain unchanged.

The majority of subscribers will not be affected, however, as the new seating layout is designed to improve sightlines for patrons seated along the center aisle of the theater, we anticipate that a small number of subscribers in the center section of the Orchestra section will be reassigned to new reserved seat numbers, while remaining in close proximity to their preferred location. Patron Services from the Ballet and Opera will work closely with those affected to discuss alternative seat locations equivalent to their previous assignments.

SF Opera will reach out to affected patrons in Fall 2020 to discuss their new seat assignments, and SF Ballet will reach out to its affected patrons in Spring 2021.

Yes, there will be greater dispersion of accessible seating options from the addition of new accessible seat platforms which will accommodate patrons who use wheelchairs and their companions in the Orchestra side sections. The rear center Orchestra section wheelchair seats will remain as they are presently configured.

The seating upgrades are being funded by a facility fee that has been charged on a per ticket basis since November 2013 for San Francisco Ballet and January 2014 for San Francisco Opera. The facility fee ranges from $1 to $3 based on the seating section for which the ticket is purchased. The improvement of the patron experience in the Opera House is a priority for both SF Ballet and Opera, and future facility fee funds will be used for similar patron-focused facility upgrades.

Ticket prices are always subject to change, but any increases will not be a direct result of this upgrade.

A Request for Qualifications (“RFQ”) was issued jointly by San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera, resident licensees of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. It was issued in cooperation with the War Memorial Board of Trustees of the City and County of San Francisco, who are responsible for the construction, management and operation of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. The RFQ was then used to identify qualified seating suppliers to provide design and pre-construction services for custom seats.

Ducharme Seating, a company with expertise in historical theaters and who is committed to manufacturing products with minimal environmental impact, was chosen as the seating supplier. Custom sample seats were developed with and reviewed by SF Ballet, SF Opera and the War Memorial. This is an ongoing process as new iterations of samples are created in response to feedback, until the perfect custom chair is agreed upon.

The decision about whether the seats will include a cup holder is still being assessed.

As the seat upgrade project is expected to require 14 continuous weeks in the Opera House, both SF Ballet and SF Opera have shortened the number of weeks they occupy the theater in 2021. SF Ballet is in discussions with BroadwaySF to present its last two programs of the 2021 season at the Orpheum Theatre. SF Ballet’s full 2021 Season will be announced in April 2020. SF Opera will present a shortened spring (instead of summer) 2021 Season in the Opera House from April 27 to May 16. SF Opera’s full 2020–21 Season will be announced on January 22, 2020.

The existing seats will be removed and disposed of, as the materials from which they were originally constructed have outlived their useful life. At this time, seats will not be available for patrons to obtain.

The project is being managed by the War Memorial Performing Arts Center in collaboration with SF Ballet and SF Opera, with the support of theatrical consultant The Shalleck Collaborative and a team from the City’s Department of Public Works.

The City is funding architecture and design services related to the accessible seating area portion of the project.

The City is funding architecture and design services related to the accessible seating area portion of the project.