There’s a lot of great theater in the Twin Cities right now. And a lot of full bladders.
Several current shows are playing without intermissions, including “Indecent” at the Guthrie Theater, “Constance in the Darkness” at Open Eye Figure Theatre and “Assassins” at Theater Latté Da. (Having not used an intermission for its recent “Man of La Mancha,” either, that venue could be redubbed Theater Hold-It-In.)
“The Humans,” which just finished a run at the Orpheum, also eliminated the mid-show 15-minute break. What’s the deal? And, more to the point, when are we supposed to answer nature’s call?
The short answer is: beforehand. The long answer is there’s a fair amount of nuance when it comes to intermissions.
Some theaters are more prone to them than others. At Children’s Theatre Company, where even the less-than-90-minute “Corduroy” will include an intermission when it opens March 9, they listen to their audience.
“Part of it is kids’ attention spans. Kids need attention breaks,” says Melissa Ferlaak, CTC’s senior communications manager. “They need to get up and stretch their legs and they may need to use the restroom.”
Adults like to do those things, too, of course. That’s why signs are going up this week at performances of “Indecent” to let audiences know there’s no intermission — emphasizing information that’s also included in the program and being conveyed by ushers.
At 100 minutes, the Paula Vogel drama slightly exceeds the Guthrie’s unwritten rule that 90 minutes is how long patrons will sit still without a break. Although staffers were on alert for problems at the first performances last weekend, visitor services manager Katherine Mayer says they did not materialize.
“I wonder if this show has people so engrossed that they’re not noticing their bodily functions,” Mayer said.
If that’s the case, those people will probably pass along that information, since Mayer says Guthrie patrons are happy to share when they think intervals are too long or too short, too early or too late — or too crowded, as they were last year, when intermissions of “A Christmas Carol” and “Blithe Spirit” coincided, dumping two theaters full of ready-for-a-break theatergoers into the same lobby at the same time every night.
Usually, whether to break or not to break is guided by the script. Some plays specifically demand an intermission so the setting can be changed, which was the case with Park Square Theatre’s recent “Cardboard Piano” and the Guthrie’s “Clybourne Park,” where the crew needed every single second of intermission to transform the stage from a grand house in 1959 to a graffiti-ridden fixer-upper, 50 years later.
Intermissions also can give audiences time to come down from a showstopping musical number or to debate a cliffhanger while they’re in the restroom or martini line. Mayer recalls that happening at Theater Mu’s “Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery” last year, after a character issued a challenge at the end of the first act.
“Intermissions for that show were just buzzing with people trying to answer the question, [which was] to try to think of the name of an Asian-American icon,” says Mayer, who adds that bartenders always love intermissions because that’s when patrons are most likely to hit the hooch.
Other shows specifically don’t want intermissions to stall their momentum. “Assassins” races to its climactic scenes with Lee Harvey Oswald, even if — as happened on opening night at Latté Da — someone in one of the front rows needs to head for the bathroom.
Momentum is also key in “A Chorus Line,” a musical that takes place in real time, as well as the drama “The Wolves.” Opening at Jungle Theater in late March, “The Wolves” is supposed to feel like it’s almost rushing at the audience, an effect that might be diminished if the show hit the pause button.
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” which depicts one of the final performances of jazz vocal great Billie Holiday, also is generally performed without an intermission. “Wolves” and “Lady Day,” which plays the Jungle this spring, both fall within the 90-minute rule.
One of theater’s biggest tests of bladder control is Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s two-hour “Follies.” Another real-time show, “Follies” usually is performed as one act. But the musical will be two acts — with intermission — when it opens at Artistry in April.
Still, not to sound like your mother: It wouldn’t be a bad idea to show up early so you have time to visit the facilities first.