I scanned a couple of articles about late seating and the theatre this morning. One is “The Importance of Not Being Late to the Theatre,” by Guardian writer Sans Taste, and the other is “The Sin of Lateness” over at The Playgoer blog. Both focus on how unfun theatre is just because one is expected to arrive on time.
Okay, so the Guardian is in the UK. I don’t know where The Playgoer is. The UK has a nationalized theatre and the article’s focus is on large theatres and opera, which are generally stricter about start times, and the article points that out. The Playgoer actually compares arriving on time to the theatre to trying to be on time to a plane. Because apparently theatres in his/her area expect patrons to arrive 3 hours ahead of time, get frisked inappropriately, then wait for two hours at a terminal with your belongings in sight, surrounded by tired people and screaming children. And somewhere in there, said theatre loses your luggage and breaks your valuables.
Theatre-going is not a big deal. Repeat it with me, kids — theatre-going is not a big deal. Our lives are FULL of instances where we’re expected to be on time, and granted, most of them are not hugely fun — work, public transit, interviews. But some of them ARE fun — dinner or drinks with friends, for instance. How about movies? Granted, theatres don’t usually offer 5 showings a day, 7 days a week, of their latest production, and theatre performances aren’t bogged down with 20 minutes of previews before the show actually starts. Personally, I think this is a good thing. If theatres spent 20 minutes out of a 2.5 hour (or more! movies are long these days!) previewing the rest of their season, or previewing shows from other theatres, just to make money, I probably wouldn’t be as keen on the art form.
Granted this 20 minutes gives the movie patron a good 10-minute leeway to be late to the theatre. But in all my years doing theatre — and I’ve been involved in theatre in some fashion since I was 6 years old — I have never once been involved in a performance that did not start late. Even large theatres start at least 5 minutes late. In Seattle, because the audiences are so wildly casual (ie, no one can bother to consider other people, or traffic, or the horrendous parking situation in this town), the rule for show start-times is 10 minutes. Because theatre doesn’t offer as many opportunities to see a show as a movie theatre, you can’t just throw up your hands and say, “I guess we’ll catch the 10:15 showing. Wanna get a beer?” And that might be something for theatres to think about in the future — more showings, longer runs, what-have-you. But, coming from a small city on the east coast that took its arts really damn seriously, and dressed up for everything, holding for 5 minutes was seen as generous. I hate the unspoken 10-minute-wait rule, but it exists here, and it has saved my ass on a couple of occasions when I was a touch too lax about buses.
But honestly, I don’t think it’s asking too much for most audiences to be on time for shows. We’re not going to use a scanner that causes cancer just to let you into the theatre. Plays have intermissions, whereas most movies don’t, so the argument about having to pee is irrelevant. You have opportunities. Theatre-going is, in fact, a rather pleasant experience, even in most fringe theatres, these days. Theatres often have bars — movie houses don’t. Theatres offer intermissions — movies don’t. Theatres hold for at least 5 minutes, usually, while movies, job interviews, buses, and planes don’t. It’s not as porous an experience as going to, as Sans Taste says, a “gig,” but concerts have become more about socializing, and less about the band — although I know plenty of hard-core music fans who get really pissed at “rude” treatment by bar patrons who are there for the atmosphere and not the music, and think they can talk over the songs, move in and out of the crowd at will, etc.
Compared to a lot of other entertainment, there’s actually nothing painful about going to the theatre. It’s really a ridiculous complaint.