the occasional thoughts of a theater fan
I've been asked recently whether I ever leave a show at intermission. Easiest question I've ever answered: no~at least not in the absence of some emergency or other non-show-related reason. I mean, we did leave "Mary Poppins" at intermission when my seven year old niece began throwing up...seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
The only other time I can think of that I left a show at intermission was in the case of a play that was four hours in length and I had a 6 a.m. flight the next day. It was the only chance I had to see the play and I at least wanted to see as much as I could (and I was glad to have seen even a truncated version).
So, as the title of the post suggests, leaving early amounts to a huge gamble that I am simply not willing to make. Even the shows that don't make it onto my top ten list have:
It's not about the money. There is no glory or satisfaction in making myself miserable simply to justify the ticket price. I've paid for that ticket; I'm not getting reimbursed if I leave early.
But one of the many reasons I love theatre so much is that each time is different; even if I'm seeing a show I've seen before, the "of the moment" nature of live theatre means it will be a unique experience. I have noticed things I didn't see the first time, heard a song a different way or have seen a character reaction that helped me understand the story a bit better.
It's the great unknown~those question marks~that keep me there. When it comes to a show that doesn't thrill me early on, my curiosity is piqued about what will happen with the second (or third or fourth) acts. Will I like it better? Will I understand the things I didn't like a little more and why they were done? Will I get to see a performance/actor/dance number/song in the second act that will make the whole show worth seeing? Most importantly: will I get to know my personal taste in theatre better and make more informed choices in the future?
Some examples of how this has played out for me:
Sometimes we need the whole story to understand the choices that the cast and creative team have made for a production. And I may not agree with those choices, even at the end; but I will have shared a full experience with that cast and my fellow audience members that was once in a lifetime.
Leaving at intermission is always a personal choice and, so long as you wait until intermission so as not to disturb the production, there's no judgment coming from me. I would just encourage giving the show the chance to change your mind!
Take one part art in any form, add a dash of emotion and allow to marinate a living, breathing human for any length of time...remove human from mix and place on open flame of opinion, preferably fresh and raw. Handle with care as dish could be combustible. The result? Uncertain. You could get intriguing, mind-opening discussion and sharing, and be tempted to judge the recipe a keeper. Or the dish could explode in your face, drenching you in bitterness and vitriol.
It really shouldn't be surprising that people hold their opinions dear; whether political or about music or art or theatre...or other people. What we think is rarely a product only of our brain matter; it's blended with heart and emotion and other sensations we can't really explain. This explains why, when people are confronted with evidence that their opinions may be based on a fact or assumption that's flawed, they grip even more tightly and find another place to stand that yields the same result.
People who know me have often heard me quote a favorite American Government teacher of mine regarding a general rule about living in community and making a society work: "your right to swing your fist stops where the other guy's nose begins." I always took that to mean that I had the right to any opinion I chose, but the decision to express and/or act on that opinion had to be tempered by the potential impact on all those nice people with whom I share the planet. This principle has proven to be an eminently reasonable and effective guide for my life.
Recently, there have been some controversies of expression that have involved the theatre community; both those working in the industry and those who love the theatre as audience members. In one, an actor expressed a very negative personal opinion in a public forum about a show she'd seen on its very first preview performance. In others, you have actors or creative team members of shows expressing what would be considered a political opinion; specifically, being against marriage equality. The intensity of emotion in the reactions on all sides of these situations appears to be inversely proportional to the amount of consideration the original speakers gave to the way in which they expressed themselves. In other words, the more thoughtless those folks are about "where the other guy's nose begins," the more likely they are to cause a painful hit on the other guy...who is then going to hit back.
If you really examine the reaction to the actor who expressed a negative opinion about the show they'd seen, you'd see that the responses were almost never saying "you don't have a right to dislike the show." Instead they were saying: consider the time, place and manner in which you expressed that opinion. In that case, it was a preview performance of a challenging show that had faced technical issues. Perhaps it would have behooved the actor to make her "of the moment" expression a private one; or kinder and more understanding. I saw the Twitter post that ignited the firestorm as it was posted and I will say that its wording was what caused my jaw to drop~not the fact that the actress didn't like the show. As I could see it, the feeling was that it was a harshly-worded, ill-timed expression that would best have been held or softened if it was going to be made public.
I do find that I have to steel myself to hear opinions of theatre about which I'm passionate. If the person agrees, we can have a sweet, decadent dessert of conversation. If they don't agree, I may have to swallow a bitter-tasting mouthful. In the end, I'm probably not going to convince someone that their creative, emotional reaction to art should be changed. It is what it is. I just have to accept that I won't get to eat that dessert I really wanted.
In the case of actors or others supporting the denial of marriage equality in a community with a substantial population of gay people, again you have a case of the swinging fist hitting the nose~the reason you're being criticized for your public and in-your-face support of Chick-Fil-A is because your opinion is not just a personally held, religious belief that you hold dear; you're using it to hit the other guy's nose by supporting discrimination and persecution against that other guy. I may disagree with you about whether there is anything "wrong" with being gay, but our difference of opinion on its own does not create an inequality. It isn't until you swing that opinion and hit my nose by denying me a right that you have, that makes this a problem. Instead of taking the time to tweet a photo of your lunch that you know is going to upset people with whom you work every day, perhaps you could go have lunch with one of your gay co-workers and try to understand their life. You'll be a lot more satisfied than you were with that chicken sandwich, I promise.
See, this is where that recipe can go bad. You have to mix emotion and society carefully. Otherwise what you get will be inedible and possibly poisonous. So think about what you say, how you say it and what impact your words or actions may have. If your neighbor is not hurting you with their opinions, try not to hurt them with yours.
As Black Stache says in "Peter and the Starcatcher,": "No man is an archipelago" :).
I sometimes say that if I lived in NYC, I would be faced with fewer difficult choices as to what theatre experiences I am able to have. But I'm not sure that's really true. For someone with the high degree of eclecticism in her theatre tastes, short of figuring out how to get my hands on one of Dumbledore's time turners, I have to face the fact that I simply cannot see everything [cue single tear squeezing out of one eye].
So what's a non-NYC denizen with wildly eclectic theatre tastes and a slightly-more-than-mild obsession with the theatre to do? Each time I feel as if I've got my arms around a series of shows I want to see, and have booked the travel and gotten the tickets, I am suddenly inundated with emails and tweets and announcements of this show and that show and the other show that somehow I didn't know about when I was planning my latest theatre run. And it's made worse when I begin to find out about the out-of-town tryouts in places like San Diego (Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse) and Chicago. Yep, my analogy is that it feels as if I'm trying to hug Jello, and it keeps squigging out each side the more I try to embrace it.
Local theatre must also be worked into the schedule and DC presents a panoply of options to balance. You never know when you're going to see the show that will move on to broader exposure; and it's so exciting when that happens. For example, the wonderful, Tony-award-winning theatre in Arlington, VA, Signature Theater, introduced me to a stunning play, "Really, Really" that appears to be moving to Broadway. And Arena Stage's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is also opening on Broadway this season.
My primary strategy is to trust my instincts when I read about a show that's coming up and not to over-think it; especially if a ticket is available at a discount. And taking advantage of all the different opportunities to take in a show...while visiting out-of-town friends, combining an errand or appointment downtown with a show that evening, taking a day trip to NYC for a matinee and taking advantage of two-show days to fit in an extra show.
But it's also about balance and wanting to see a mixture of genres and have a variety of experiences~because that's what I love about theatre~it's a new adventure every time those house lights dim.
By the way, as I was typing this post, I was interrupted twice by my trusty iCal popup reminders for on-sale dates for two different shows in the fall for which I'm hoping to get tickets...it never ends...and I don't want it to end. I just need for the universe to add more days to the week and to make me independently wealthy. It could happen, right?