I see a lot of plays. And through this possibly almost exact research I have discovered that ninety minutes is my sweet spot. As an audience member, I can freely offer my attention up for ninety-minutes spans to be shown anything all of the types of stories. I am excellent at remaining engaged for 90 minutes.
It’s true. And that’s why my infrequent movie-going self watched Gravity three times. Because it is 91 minutes. And I forgave them that one minute because of SPACE!
For me, when things get over ninety minutes that I find myself counting the hairs on the head on the person sitting in front of me, making a Target list in my head or the more common “resting my eyes.” This may be the fault of the script for failing to be interesting or the director and actors for sinking the pacing, but it could also be that I am at the wrong show for me.
I’ve thought about this a lot, as an avid theatre-goer. I see a lot of shows and most aren’t in the ninety minutes sweet spot. But if I find out a show is kissing that hour and a half mark, it will tip the scales for me to go see it. Drama, comedy, musical, dance, performance art, I will give you ninety minutes of my time for you to do what you wish. If I find out that a play is three hours I already am mad at the play and reluctant to go see it.
So what’s this all about? Am I saying you should time your script and make sure it never is over an hour and half? I would love that, but obviously that is not what I am saying. A story takes as long as it takes to tell. What I am getting at is a matter of audience member taste. For me, it’s easy to forget that theatre is a taste-based universe, just like restaurants.
If I was someone who disliked barbeque, do you think I would volunteer to take myself there for a celebration dinner? Of course not, that’s not my hypothetical taste profile. But if this alleged non-BBQ loving self of mine
was going to celebrate a pal’s birthday or had a free coupon or a reason outside of my taste profile. Yes, I’ll go. It’s not that this imaginary self believes BBQ restaurants shouldn’t exist, it’s that audiences and customers evaluate theatre and food in similar ways, using their own unique tastes, agendas and sense of adventure.
So how is this helpful? Maybe it’s not. I try to keep this in mind when I assess my own work. Not everyone loves everything I write. I sure want them too, but I have to remind myself it’s not going to happen. And because I’ll never write the piece that pleases everyone, I probably need to focus on just writing the piece that pleases me? Even though writing the piece that pleases everyone would please me too
(For the record, I love barbeque, barbecue, BBQ in all the ways and styles. I can tell you about all the ‘que I’ve enjoyed. I’ll probably write a show about it.)
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