Maybe the actors shouldn’t have been eavesdropping.
During the intermission of a performance of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” at Hillsdale in the fall of 2014, actors were waiting backstage in what is known as the green room. A speaker system on the wall was connected to the headsets that members of the crew wear so they could talk to each other from all over the theater. While the assistant stage managers and tech crew were chatting, someone mentioned the amount of people who had gotten up to leave during intermission, which was apparently enough to be noticeable.
They did not realize the actors had heard them. Without saying much, the cast exchanged dismayed glances, hoping their audience wasn’t too disappointed by the show as they headed upstairs for Act II.
Unfortunately, this trend of leaving shows at intermission is far too common at Hillsdale, and it should stop. If you haven’t noticed it, then you probably don’t attend much theatre.
“Watching the audience file out is a very quick realization that the show’s energy is going to go down quickly,” junior theatre major Nikolai Dignoti said. “If the actors notice, they think, ‘why is my art not worth sitting through?’”
The most common reason people choose to leave plays are their full schedules.
“I understand that people are busy,” senior theatre major Dani Morey said. “Theatre is not everyone’s top priority. But we have papers and midterms, too. If you’re going to make the effort to come, don’t leave halfway through.”
While cast and crew appreciate busy students’ desire to support theatre, these students may not realize that their leaving gives the opposite impression. The cast often can’t help but assume that attendees who abandon ship just didn’t like what they saw. Put simply, if you don’t have time to watch the whole show, you don’t have time to watch the show. Period.
“Leaving a play early is really rude,” Morey said. “It also breaks your concentration badly, because it’s a small auditorium so you can see everyone. When someone leaves, you start rewinding the performance in your mind and trying to figure out what offended them so much that they decided to leave.”
Morey’s first play here at Hillsdale was “Mirror of the Invisible World” by Mary Zimmerman, which is told in an episodic format. She would notice audience members leaving after each scene.
“It got sad because as we came on stage for each group of stories, we’d think, ‘oh, look, five less people,’” Morey said. “The energy really drains when you can feel people’s attention start to wander and they leave.”
During that same season, a student walked up to an actress after the show and asked her to tell him how the play ended, explaining that he needed to see it for a class but left at intermission. Morey described this as the “insult to end all insults.”
Junior theatre major Elena Creed said that she is frustrated with theatre goers who leave because they are offended by an element of the show, especially if they plan to walk out and demonstrate their disapproval.
“I’m a firm believer that you cannot adequately judge a play unless you see it in its entirety,” Creed said. “One of the greatest aspects of theatre is that is opens up a dialogue, and especially here at Hillsdale, we should be able to sit through a whole show and discuss its pros and cons and worldview.”
Creed added that the plays at Hillsdale are never intended to offend, and audience members can research shows ahead of time to see if there might be something that they would prefer to avoid.
Dignoti plays the lead role of Willy Loman in the Tower Players’ current production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, which opened here on campus on Nov. 16. He urged audience members to watch the show in its entirety.
“Act I ends on a very high note,” Dignoti said. “An argument is resolved, and everything’s going to be okay. Those are some of the last words [Loman] says. But everything falls apart in the second act.”
If you want to understand and appreciate this play, you’re going to have to watch to the end. If you miss the tragic element of this story, you miss the story entirely.
However, Dignoti added one important caveat: if you must leave a show early, it is preferred that you leave during intermission rather than during the performance when possible, he said. It’s certainly more disruptive to leave while the actors are onstage.
If you can, you should go watch “Death of a Salesman.” All of it.
Ms. Lasch is a junior studying history and journalism.