(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 12/19.)

This is part II of Michael Feingold's latest "Thinking About Theater" column.
Click here to read part I.

At movies, comings and goings during the film are a frequent part of the experience. "The running time is 97 minutes," the critic Kenneth Tynan once said of a film. "The walking-out time is much earlier." The old days of "continuous performances" bred a habit of arriving late for a film, knowing that you could catch the beginning when the next show started. Even in today's more regulated world, departures and returns — for popcorn and soda, or for bathroom breaks — remain a constant, on a par with texting as a guaranteed irritant to those actually trying to pay attention to the film.

The theater, where you're discouraged from coming and going (as indeed from texting) during the performance, has different parameters: The actors in a film can't see you if you get up to leave during their performance, and they'll never notice the empty seats you vacate during an intermission. Actors onstage can't help but be aware of such things, which don't improve the spirit in which they approach their work.

The press, to which producers generally grant good seats in a noticeable section of the theater, has to take this reality into account, and feel a sense of obligation not only to the management as their hosts but to the actors as fellow human beings and, in a sense, colleagues. It's bad enough that, more often than not, you're likely to write something less than enthusiastic about a show — doing which is pretty much the equivalent of telling proud parents they've given birth to an ugly baby. To add the insult of leaving early to the injury of critical carping or negative reporting hardly makes sense.


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