Friday, September 25, 2009

Is 90 minutes theatre's holy grail?

In the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones wonders whether 90 minutes is the right length for a show. He says it depends, and I'd have to agree with him.

I've seen some 90 minute musicals, like 13 and A Catered Affair, for example, that I really loved. I spent about 7 1/2 hours watching all three parts of The Norman Conquests and it was bliss. The 3 hours and 15 minutes of August: Osage County flew by.

But I realize that not everyone is me, and attention spans are shorter these days. If people are seeing an evening performance and they have to get to work the next day, they want to get home at a reasonable hour. If I'm at home and not in New York City on vacation, 90 minutes looks more attractive.

The article reminds me of a Working in the Theatre podcast on the marketing of Broadway that I watched recently. The guests, all experienced at designing campaigns to sell plays and musicals, were talking about the success of God of Carnage, a 90-minute play.

Drew Hodges founder and CEO of the theatrical advertising agency SpotCo, said: "I'm sure we've all asked to put 90 minutes no intermission in the ads. ... A really good show that's short is the holy grail."

(On the other hand, can a show be too short? According to Telecharge, the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Oleanna, with Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, clocks in at 1 hour and 15 minutes, and rear mezzanine tickets are $76.50.)

Personally, I think the playwright or composer has to know how long their work needs to be. Knowing when to stop is one of the hardest things for any writer to learn. I'm certainly guilty of being long-winded on my blog. (Although no one's paying to read it.)

To attract me as an audience member, the key is an absorbing story and compelling characters. Then I'll stay with you for as long as it takes.


Monica said...

For me, having a show that is engaging and a well-done piece of drama is much more important than it's length. I've seen 90 minute shows that have dragged, I've seen 90 minute shows that have wizzed by (One of which was a production of "Oleanna" that I saw in an unheated room in November in Iowa.) But I've also seen two hour or longer shows that have dragged and some where I've looked at my watch and gone, "There is no way that act was that long. It was way shorter than that." When I was eleven, I saw August Wilson's "King Headly II," which is a three hour long show. I was eleven and had a shorter attention span than I do now and it was an utterly fascinating play where the time flew by. There are quite a few three hour long shows that do work well with that length. (I'm guessing "August: Osage County" does, I haven't seen it yet.) For me, I think that being a good piece of theater that doesn't drag is much more important than the length.

I also find it interesting that Chris Jones from the Trib prompted this post because "Animal Crackers" at the Goodman is two-and-a-half hours long and it has a fifteen minute intermission. Curtain time at the Goodman is at 8 p.m. for evening shows, so you're not getting out until 11 p.m.. There have been rather lengthy shows that have been done in Chicago in recent history (Like, "August: Osage County") and I wonder how many people complain about the length of shows in Chicago.

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment, Monica. Wow, sounds like you've had some terrific theater experiences. I'm very mixed on Mamet. I didn't love Speed-the-Plow all that much but I am eager to see Race. I'll probably skip Oleanna.

I envy your seeing August Wilson at age 11. I'm not familiar with that play, but just from "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" I think Wilson writes very compelling and interesting characters and I imagine it would be pretty riveting.

I definitely agree that it's all about what's up on stage. And one thing I also have to agree with Chris Jones about is that I like intermissions!