All in the Timing

Everything has its season
Everything has its time.
Show me a reason and I’ll soon show you a rhyme.
“Corner of the Sky,” Pippin. by Stephen Schwartz

Just as in song, everything has its time in theatre. Timing is an important issue that is often missed when I attend theatre. Even producing it. I sometimes have a hard time convincing a stage manager or fellow producer to start the show on time.

I’m big on curtain times. I want a show to start as close as possible to the advertised start time. Within 5 minutes. When I’m in the audience at 10 after and nothing is happening I get impatient. More often than not there’s not a huge line out the door at the box office, maybe one or two latecomers. Why make dozens of on-time patrons wait for 2 latecomers? Who cares how bad traffic was. If they’re late, they’re late.

Even before the curtain rises (if you happen to have a curtain in your theatre) there’s the question of when to open house. I once attended a concert several years ago, it was probably an 600 seat theatre and the lobby was packed, nearly sold out from the looks of things. 80% of the audience looked like they were over 80 years old. 30 minutes till curtain, house wasn’t open. 20 minutes till… still closed. 15 minutes… getting read. 10 minutes out… house opens! 30 minutes later the ocean of octogenarians has made it safely to their seats. They all came early, who waited till last minute to open the house? Who thought this was a good idea? That was only one sins performed by the management of this event. I haven’t been back for anything else they’ve done.

House should be opened far enough in advance that all your patrons can get in comfortably. I’d say no less than 15 minutes for a small theatre. Give people a chance to read their programs!

Yes, some people like to read their programs. Even I like to see who’s in the show I’m about to see. Or maybe see if there are director’s notes that will help me understand the events onstage. So when I enter a theatre with house lights turned down to a point where I can just barely read the seat number (for setting some sort of mood?) I feel like I’m being cheated. Set the mood in the opening moments of the show, with the soundtrack, whatever. But let me read your program!

The most difficult bit of timing is the lights dimming, pre-show announcement, then starting the show. More often than not I find it happens to fast. If did a good job getting the word out, the crowd is probably large and excited to be there. Give them a few moments to sit as the house lights go to half. Give them time to turn off their electronics as the announcement is made, and give them time to settle and focus their attention as the lights finally fade to black. You want to catch the audiences attention with the first moments of the show, but that won’t happen if they’re focusing on getting to their seat or turning off their phone.

Good timing is a delicate matter, but it makes a huge difference. Imagine the safety belt sign coming on in an airplane after you’ve passed the turbulence. Or the safety demonstration happening while you’re making your way to the window seat with the best view.

Whether you’re producing a nonstop flight or one with an intermission, make sure that your patrons are given the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy.