I get this phone call at least once a month.
“What’s the running time of the show?” It’s usually a theatre critic who is coming to review. There is often an almost audible sigh of relief on the other end when I say “Ninety minutes with no intermission.”
It seems like ninety minutes with no intermission is the new golden child of the the-ah-tah. Last week, I had to leave at the second intermission of a show I was doing publicity for on opening night, because it was three acts long (with an intermission after each), and I had to be home for 10:30 for the babysitter. I felt bad–it was one of those shows that requires a massive set change between acts, so cutting an intermission is impossible. But I had to get home.
I do feel somewhat relieved when I hear that a show is one act, and under a hour and a half. Having said that, for me, it has much more to do with my financial situation (paying a babysitter) than my attention span.
We hear so much these days about “the kids” and their attention spans. Yes, I grew up in a world where we were not allowed to watch TV while we did our homework, and even now, I might have the radio on when I’m working, but that’s about all the distraction I can handle. My son, I’m sure, will be able to handle multiple-sensory input and complete essays at the same time.
I put this question out to my 2amt Tweeps, and the response was almost unanimous.
Adam Szymkowicz, a playwright, put it the best, though, I think:
I think it’s because a lot of plays are overwritten and or boring. People also like to know when they can leave. I don’t know what play it was but I think there is a take your medicine kind of feel in a lot of theaters. People go because it’s good for them, this art that is boring and no fun at all. I’m not saying that’s your theater. I hope it’s not. But they may not know that.
It’s true. If you are at a show that is incredibly engaging, you get lost in it, you become one with the show, in a way, and that’s what makes theatre magic. So maybe it’s not our attention spans.
You may also want to read this post by The American Theatre Wing called Long Enough to Reach.
What do you think? Are our attention spans shrinking, or do we need to write and/or produce more engaging shows?