Magazine article The New Yorker

Road Test

Magazine article The New Yorker

Road Test

Article excerpt

Broadway, like New York City, is a place where petty comforts are fought for but rarely won. So when Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns five Broadway houses, recently announced a "revolutionary" measure--the installation of ergonomic seats at the August Wilson, currently home to the musical "Jersey Boys"--the news inspired both relief and skepticism. "Using dual density foams to encourage an anatomically correct posture," a press release read, "the patented ProBax(R) cushions reduce back ache and muscle fatigue from sitting." It was a bit like the Spanish Inquisition, as portrayed by Monty Python, threatening to "fetch the Comfy Chair."

A few days later, Ian Moore, the C.E.O. of NuBax, the British company that developed ProBax, was standing in Row S. "When you sit down, two million years of postural evolution get thrown right out the window," he explained. He took out a purple bowling ball and handed it to a visitor. "That is the weight of your head," he said, noting that, in a standard seat, the pelvis rotates backward, resulting in slumping and muscle strain. "What this technology aims to do is kid your pelvis into thinking it's still standing up."

The benefits: less fidgeting and leg-crossing, reduced armrest dependence, and increased blood flow and lung capacity, which lead to better concentration (and less nodding off). The August Wilson is the first North American entertainment venue to use ProBax, and Moore spoke of its effect on the West End thriller "The Woman in Black": "There are three or four very big pauses in the play, and normally there's coughing, and the fidgeting is like a ripple--now it's totally silent and still." Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn, who was reclining in Row T, added, "We don't expect people to say, 'Oh, my God, what a chair!' We expect them to say, 'Oh, my God, what a show!' "

Bold claims, but would they hold up? To find out, a study was devised. The guinea pigs: Subject A (thirties, male) and Subject B (fifties, female), both highly distractible. The materials: (1) one index-finger oximeter, which detects the pulse and blood-oxygen level of its wearer; (2) one peak-flow meter, a white plastic device, used mostly by asthmatics to measure respiratory capacity; and (3) two mood rings, to gauge emotional output.

Upon arriving at "Jersey Boys," Subject B gave an assessment of her seat: "As far as my pelvis goes, I couldn't be happier. The clearance between me and the chair in front of me is adequate but not exceptional. …

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