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Is It OK To Leave A Show During Intermission?


There is no law against walking out the door during intermission, but it can be a dilemma. You're at a concert or a play and for whatever reason decide you don't really want to go back for the second half of the performance. If enough people think the same thing, it can mean a lot of empty seats after the break. It's something audience members do think about. And as NPR's Elizabeth Blair tells us, so do theaters and orchestras, some of which are tightening up their act.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Our debate about this here at NPR started when Susan Stamberg and I went to see "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Don't ask why.



BLAIR: We both thought it was pretty awful, so I said, Let's leave at intermission. And Susan said...

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: I'm the mother of an actor, so I find it so rude. It's just not right. You think we're sitting in the dark. We are not. They'll see empty seats. They'll feel terrible. We're staying.

BLAIR: And we did. But her response nagged at me, so I went looking for other opinions, at Lincoln Center in New York.

ANNA TONNA: You left "Pelleas"? How could you do that? With Sir Simon Rattle?

JOSEPH SCHMITT, BYLINE: I was really tired that night and I didn't see a point. I wasn't able to focus.

BLAIR: Anna Tonna and Joseph Schmitt broke into a little debate of their own, but only about leaving a particular opera, not about leaving in general. They say they've left at intermission before.

SCHMITT: At the end of the day, my time is my own. And if I'm not enjoying it I'm going to leave and do something else.

BLAIR: So how do the people putting on the show feel about those empty seats during the second act? Not good, says theater director Simon Curtis. But if you're miserable, he says, best to leave.

SIMON CURTIS: I've left at the intermission of shows I've directed. You know, sometimes it just isn't happening.

BLAIR: Curtis says in London, there's a trend away from long, two-and-half-hour plays, towards shorter productions with no intervals as they're called in the UK.

CURTIS: The 90 minute, one-act play, like a movie, you sit through it. People are enjoying that, so I think that could be part of that too.

BLAIR: How did that come about?

CURTIS: I don't know. I think people just didn't want to do the whole interval thing and spend the money on the drinks, queue up, queue back. You know, they just want to sit there and enjoy the experience.

PETER GELB: I have, over the past couple of years, actually, stripped intermissions out of about six or seven operas.

BLAIR: Peter Gelb is general manager of The Metropolitan Opera.

GELB: So an opera that might have three intermissions, like "Aida" now has two intermissions. An opera like "Traviata," that typically had two intermissions, now there's one, because I think people are not interested in wasting a lot of time during intermissions.

BLAIR: But, there are some people who hope people will leave - at least in New York, where there's a long tradition of second acting. At Broadway theaters, that's when people will hang outside during intermission - usually with the smokers - and then walk back in with the pack, unnoticed, since ushers don't always ask to see ticket stubs. It happens at The Met too.

ANNE MIDGETTE: I used to do it all the time.

BLAIR: Anne Midgette writes about classical music for the Washington Post. When she was a student in New York, she'd approach people on their way out the door.

MIDGETTE: I would just say, you know, are you leaving? Could you give me your ticket stubs? And they were usually happy to do it, or would pat their pockets searching for the elusive ticket stubs and hand them over.

BLAIR: As a critic, Anne Midgette says she's seen the empty seats in the second half of some classical concerts. She says orchestras still struggle with the 21st century reality that a lot of people don't want to go to a concert that is two to three hours long.

MIDGETTE: The New World Symphony, which is a group that's experimenting a lot with different concert formats, had an idea of doing evenings that were like gallery shows where pieces were playing in different rooms, and you would get a ticket and that would give you admission to roam around the entire place and go in and hear what you wanted and what you didn't want.

BLAIR: So there's no need to wait for intermission to leave.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


MONTAGNE: And you too can weigh in on this burning question. We've opened a discussion on MORNING EDITION's Facebook page on whether it is OK to walk out during intermission. Let us know what you think.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.