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Broadway Bolting at Intermission –> Banning from Broadway

On December 1, 2014, the Wall Street Journal published the following article by Joanne Kaufman, who “writes about culture,” in which she admits to having left at intermission at all the shows whose logos are shown above.

Confessions of a Broadway Bolter

“I recently saw three Broadway shows in a single week. Actually, as is my
unfortunate tendency, I’m overstating things a bit. To be scrupulously
honest, I saw half of three Broadway shows. Intermissions came and I went.

I bailed first on “The Last Ship.” The lights had barely come up at the
end of the tedious first act—think “Sinky Boats”—when I looked at my
husband; he looked at me and off we went up the aisle and out the exit,
thrilled to breathe the sweet air of W. 52nd Street. O, Sting, where is
thy depth?

I’m embarrassed by how unembarrassed I am to admit that the very next
night, I took early leave of “The Country House,” and the following
night of “It’s Only a Play.” If only. Don’t ask me what happened during
the second acts of “Matilda,” “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and, reaching back
a few seasons, “Boeing-Boeing” and “Billy Elliott. ” Really, I have no
idea. But I am nothing if not cosmopolitan in my tastes, or
distastes—French farces, English musicals set in gritty industrial
cities, and American entertainments involving Charlemagne ’s Frankish kin.

I hasten to say that I have occasionally met a production more than
halfway. Let the record show that I sat happily and raptly through
“August: Osage County” and, just last month, through the superlative
“Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” both of which clocked
in at almost three hours. I never looked at my watch. “Here Lies Love,”
which is set on a disco floor and requires audience members to follow
the action on foot? I was sufficiently captivated that I stood through
it—actually, danced through it—twice.

But these are exceptions. I’m of the “brevity is the soul of wit” school
and of the belief that only a few bites are required to determine that
you just don’t like a particular dish. My ideal night in the theater
runs 90 minutes without an intermission (it is best not to put
temptation in my path), which means that Shakespeare and I don’t tend to
see a lot of each other.

“In a recent production of ‘ King Lear, ’ the first act ran for two and
a half hours,” Jean Kerr —the humorist, playwright and wife of drama
critic Walter Kerr—recalled in her 1964 essay “I Don’t Want to See the
Uncut Version of ANYTHING.” “I was once more made aware–during that
interminable first act—that the most serious materials eventually seem
comic if they are allowed to go on too long,” Kerr continued. “For
instance, during the protracted scene in which Lear (now mad) is talking
to poor, blinded Gloucester, all I could think was ‘first they put his
eyes out, now they’re going to talk his ears off.’”

I’m privileged and I know it. Because of my profession, I get a pair of
free tickets to many entertainments: theater, movies, concerts, opera.
If I leave at halftime I lose nothing, say friends who, using logic that
befuddles me, feel they need to stay until the end of a show they abhor
in the name of getting their money’s worth.

There’s a risk in leaving early, of course, not the least of which is
being spotted and caught out by the press agent who provided me with the
tickets in the first place. There are only so many times one can claim
appendicitis or labor pains, or indignantly claim to be the victim of
mistaken identity: Me leave “L’elisir d’amore” after the first act?
Would Pinkerton leave Madame Butterfly ?

But more significant is the possibility of missing out on an
extraordinary performer, perhaps an actor making a Broadway debut, who
doesn’t show up until late in the proceedings; a song that has standard
written all over it; a flat-out revelatory second act.

“American plays seem to get better as they go along. They’re just
introducing characters and doing exposition in the first act,” said the
actor Richard Kind, who received a Tony nomination for his work in the
2013 Broadway revival of Clifford Odets ’s “The Big Knife.” (Actually,
it was thanks entirely to Mr. Kind’s portrayal of a brutish movie studio
chief that I stuck it out till the end.)

“I remember not being enchanted by the first act of ‘Other Desert
Cities,’” Mr. Kind continued, referring to the Jon Robin Baitz drama
that ran on Broadway during the 2011-12 season. “And I was going, like,
‘there’s a lot of Sturm and Drang here, a lot of much ado about
nothing.’ But then, in the second act—wow, you’re just slapped in the
face. It was wonderful.” Optimism (things will get better) and fear (his
actor buddies in the production might find out if he leaves early) tend
to keep Mr. Kind in his seat.

But he was remarkably forbearing about the estimated 30% “or maybe even
50%” of the audience that departed the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor
where he starred this summer in Tom Stoppard ’s intellectually demanding
comedy “Travesties.” “Who wants to see that when you have chicken
skewers waiting at home?” Mr. Kind asked. “But the people who did stay
were enthralled.”

A friend who sometimes comes with me to the theater and sometimes makes
an early break with me (the aforementioned “Billy Elliott”) and without
me (“Superior Donuts” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan”) worries about the
effect her premature departure might have on other unhappy audience
members. Emboldened by her leave-taking, will they bolt too, in effect
clear-cutting two or three rows in the orchestra section? She’s also
foreclosing on the opportunity to opine about the show—which is, of
course, half the fun of going to the theater. After all, how much weight
can her judgment carry if she didn’t stick around through the curtain call?

I have my own silent colloquy with the audience members in my vicinity
as I’m hastily gathering up my belongings and planning to make my break
for freedom. Do they view my departure as reflective of an independent
spirit or or an inferior intellect? High principles or moral laxity? Bad
manners (though I would/never/leave in the middle of an act)? A childish
inability to sit still? Or—and this has only recently occurred to
me—perhaps a few souls are thinking, “Gee, I wish I had the guts to cut
out, too.”

In a burst of feverish optimism, I just accepted press tickets to the
forthcoming “Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2,” a 5 1/2-hour adaptation of Hilary
Mantel ’s two novels about the Tudor court.

I’ll probably last as long as Anne Boleyn.”

The best line in the piece is a comment by a reader: “I only read half of this article and decided to get some fresh air.”

Now there is a lot of debate about leaving at intermission – whether it’s more or less polite to leave at intermission from a show you don’t like rather than stay and fidget and yawn. The distinction here is that this bolter is paid to attend these shows with the possibility of writing about them (and judging them) for the public.

Reaction was swift and vitriolic, including from other critics:

 

Colin Mitchell in Bitter Lemons blog:

“…this Kaufman chick, she’s paid to write for the fucking Wall Street Journal! How does she still have a job?

Broadway producer Ken Davenport wrote about it in his blog.

“We’re not going to stop giving you tickets, Ms. Kaufman.  We’re on the other side of an abusive relationship.  You insult us, neglect us, and then you brag about it.  But we’ll still invite you to our bed.

Do us a favor.  Turn down the invite.  Go find something you actually enjoy.  The theater and you will be better off for it.”

Perhaps he spoke too soon. Two theater publicity companies, Sam Rudy Media Relations and O&M, said they would no longer give her free tickets. Rick Miramontez, president of O&M, wrote the following blog post, originally written as a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, whose editors declined to publish it.

Goodbye, Old Girl
Those of us who happen to love theater and happen to live in New York City are lucky enough to have access to the greatest stage scene in the world. I have been representing plays and musicals for more than three decades, and in my role as press agent I have handed out tens-of-thousands of free tickets to members of the media. While the general public plunks down hard-earned money for the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the world’s greatest stage talents flaunt their craft on Broadway, members of the press corps are traditionally given pairs of “press tickets,” gratis. The face value that any given production gives away to the media during designated press performances around the time of its opening is somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000. The hope, of course, is that those free tickets will yield coverage, and that coverage will convince the general public to plunk down said hard-earned money. But there is no agreement, tacit or otherwise, between the productions I represent and the members of the media I invite that coverage will be forthcoming. There is, however, a tacit agreement that these works will be considered, thoughtfully and seriously, in their entirety by those who accept the tickets. ​

So when your columnist, Joanne Kaufman, penned her piece entitled “Confessions of a Broadway Bolter,” in which she boasts about the sheer number of times she skips out of the theater at intermission (trying, she tells us, not to get “spotted and caught out by the press agent who provided me with the tickets in the first place”) I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a chump for having accommodated the woman so many times over the years. Certainly every audience member, paid or comped, has the right to form whatever opinions they might about any production they see, but I don’t think it’s too much to expect those who attend on press tickets stay for the duration. Would a fine art writer only peer at half a canvas before deciding she’s bored and it’s time to move on? Does a music reporter think he can make an informed decision on an album if he only listens to a couple of tracks? Why would we accept such sheer laziness from our theatrical press?

“Joltin’ Joanne” Kaufman makes it sound like an unbearable hardship to have to sit through the entirety of a Broadway show. As the overwhelming majority of her colleagues manage to sit through (and often rave about) the very shows she bolts from, I have to think that this is less a reflection of the quality of the works and simply indicative of a woman who loathes the art form. It seems to me that a theater reporter who hates theater would be well served to find another beat.

Well, let me be the first of what I hope will be many press agents to unburden Joltin’ Joanne from her hardship. She will never be invited to another show by my office. If she deems a show of ours worthy enough for her (fleeting) attention, she is more than welcome to call us to arrange tickets — but she had better have a credit card handy.

Sincerely, Rick Miramontez

An arts writer on Facebook:

I interviewed Wallace Shawn once… I asked him, what did he do when he was bored as an audience member—did he day dream, did he make a to do list, how did he cope with being stuck in a seat at the theater. And he said that he has never once been bored at the theater, because every person on stage is bringing every experience they have ever had, everything they’ve read and seen, everyone who has influenced them, all of the roles they’ve played before, to their performance, and that that is an endlessly interesting thing for him to observe. I was struck and humbled. So how do you become more Wallace Shawn-like? Decades of practice showing up to the theater open and staying open. It’s a practice that resembles any enlightenment practice. The experience of theater is one in which there are many many many realms of noticing that can be opened up. And arts writers have the power to cultivate curiosity and appreciation in audience members.

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

2 Responses to Broadway Bolting at Intermission –> Banning from Broadway

  1. queerbec says:

    How is Ms. Kaufman going to sit through 6+ hours of “Wolf Hall”? I’ll eagerly alleviate her of her tickets and stay to the very end of both parts!

  2. kellydwyer says:

    This is her job. If the rest of us stopped doing our work halfway through whenever we were bored, we would be fired. She should be replaced by someone who will write about plays and musicals she/he actually sits through. (Pick me! Pick me!)

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