I used to think it was that all plays are now an hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. Then, I used to think it was because theatres lie about even that. Plays are sometimes even longer. They usually say ‘90 minutes without an intermission’ in the program – and you know then that you’re in for up to 2 hours without a break, and you’d better go to the bathroom, now.
But no, it’s not that.
It’s not because of ‘the death of the intermission.’
It’s certainly not the fault of the actors. They seem to get more and more talented every day. Musical comedy actors now have to be quadruple threats: they have to sing, dance, act and, if possible, play a musical instrument. (I’m sure glad I don’t go to musical theatre school!)
No, I don’t blame the actors.
I blame the writers and the directors.
You see once upon a time there was a difference between plays and movies.
When you went to a movie you could go to sleep or have sex with your girlfriend in the back row -- and it didn’t really matter. But when you went to a play, you knew that whatever you did might have an effect on the action.
What do I mean? Well I don’t mean ‘audience participation’ -- like in a hippie way, like having sex with the actors -- like in Dionysus in ’69. No, I don’t long for those days, don’t get me wrong. That whole experience always kinda scared me.
What I mean is that there was a time, it seems to me (and of course I may be wrong), when the way the audience reacted affected the way the actors acted. If the audience laughed (and it was a comedy) the actors would play (delicately of course) to that laughter. If the play was a drama, then the actors could feel, quite often, if the audience was ‘with’ them or not, and play to that energy. Watching a play wasn’t a passive experience; it was active, because you knew that it was in your power to affect what was going on in front of you.
But alas, no more. Now we sit, and we watch, and the actors do their thing, and the set is fabulous! It twirls around, or it falls on our heads, or whatever, and it’s pretty clear that the actors know what they’re doing. And they won’t likely be doing anything else -- i.e., responding to anything that we, the audience, do. If we’ve paid a lot of money for the show (which we usually have) and we’re out for an evening with ‘the wife’ or an afternoon with ‘the kids’ then we usually stand up and give the play a standing ovation no matter what.
So how did things come to such a pretty pass?
Well, the purpose of going to see a play these days is to pretty much just to have our view of life confirmed. It’s 2014 (almost) and we know very well what is right and what is wrong, and we certainly don’t have much more to learn. We know who the good people are. Good people are good citizens, usually, and they care about the environment, and the future, and the kids, and they go to work, and make a living, and they kinda care about things generally. And we know who the bad people are too. They are, for the most part, not like us at all. They do drugs, and they do not talk nicely, and they act inappropriately around --you know -- sexual matters, and they don’t care about children, the environment, or the future. And from the moment the play starts, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. And if the good guys win, we will laugh -- and if they lose we cry. But there aren’t any surprises.
So in a way, going to a play is kinda like not going to a play; they’re both basically the same thing.
The only thing that’s different is that going to a play is an occasion, cuz, after all, we went out to dinner first, and we got dressed up -- or at least we’re not wearing what we wore when we sat at home and watched something on youtube the night before, right?
No, we’re civilized.
And so are the actors.
And that’s why theatre is so boring.