On Monday, I relayed a peck of opinions that readers had on intermissions -- the good, the bad, and the not-so-ugly. The ones I saved for today involve the people who need -- or don't need -- people near them during intermission.
Wrote Ricky from P.A., "Without intermissions, I would have to have spent many a second act next to so many smoky-smelling, annoying, or noisy people. With intermissions, I was able to move far away from them." Andrew Barrett told of sitting next to someone who wasn't smoky-smelling, annoying, or noisy -- and yet posed his own special challenge. "When I was much younger," he wrote, "my parents dropped me off to see Sunday in the Park With George while they went to see My One and Only. As the first act curtain fell, while I was shaking with exhilaration, I noticed the man sitting next to me leaning over, sniffing. I was moved that he was crying, but I didn't understand why he was crying into this little silver case in his hands. When the second act began, I wondered why he was gone, considering [that] he seemed to be so moved by the show. Years later, when I was older and wiser, I realized the man was snorting cocaine. No wonder he didn't stay. (Could you imagine listening to dot-dot-dot-dot-dot while high on coke?)"
Some people delight in the chatter that goes on during intermissions, like Lon Chaifetz. "I'm very much a theater traditionalist," he wrote, before confessing, "Okay, I'm a romantic about the whole theater experience. I prefer the curtain to be down when I enter. Nothing can beat the excitement of the lights going out and the curtain rising on a set, particularly in a musical. And so, I love that moment at the end of the first act when you are, hopefully, caught by surprise and/or emotion, and the curtain comes down. So, the intermission chatter, rushing to the restrooms, bar, outside for a smoke if necessary...it's all part of why going to the theater became my religion of sorts. 'The theater IS a temple,' as one of our icons said." John Petrikovic agrees: "Mid-session chatter is part of the excitement of live theater," he wrote, then made a good point: "But I could see why some authors would want to avoid that chatter at all costs."
Their reactions made me think about Matthew Murray's line: "I hate intermissions because, for me, there's never anything to do during them." Guess perception is in the eye of the beholder. Murray could learn a great deal from Bill Curtis, who certainly has found something to do during intermissions. His was among the most eloquent of responses that I read.
"Good show or bad show," Curtis wrote, "I love the intermission, and all the action and interaction. The best part is people-watching. What is he wearing? Why is she with him? I've been to so many shows now that I recognize people just from having seen them at other shows. I like to see some of them pay through the nose for a drink at a crowded bar stampede. I love watching the same folks try to navigate through the crowd without spilling anything and then try to find a spot to stand to look sophisticated. By the time they get situated, martini-in-hand, and start throwing off their carefully cultivated blasé air, the house lights dim and they must gulp it down and dash back to their seats.
"I love seeing the honest-to-God Ladies Who Lunch, and I delight in every too-tight face-lift. There are so many tanning-boothed and sun-damaged faces that look like old baseball mitts perched atop couture mannequins. I love every trowel-full of Merle Norman cosmetics smeared over 70 years of social climbing, clove cigarettes, and alimony. I like spotting couples under 30 dressed to the nines at their first big show. I love spotting well turned out couples over 80 who look like they've been to 60 years of shows together -- often looking as happy and excited as the under-30 couples.
"Intermission gives you the opportunity to casually turn in your seat like you're looking for your friends when you're really scanning the audience for celebrities. Front mezzanine seats are one of God's gifts to celebrity stalkers. Without intermission, how am I going to lean out, look down, and know that Carol Channing in the flesh is sitting sixth row center orchestra? I got to speak briefly to Rick Moranis during intermission at The Producers and told him he'd be a terrific Leo Bloom. I realized at a preview of Hairspray that one of my idols, James L. Brooks, was sitting with his family in the row behind me; I didn't speak to him, but there he was! I did meet musical theater goddess Donna Murphy during the Mamma Mia! intermission. I can't afford to dine at Le Cirque 2000 or 21 Club ,I don't go for drinks at the Oak Room or Feinstein's. But I've rubbed elbows with playwrights and composers, stage and screen actors, producers, directors, and New York's power elite. I've been seated next to Marvin Hamlisch and across the aisle from Regis. I've been disappointed (but also secretly glad) to see the rich and famous looking awful or behaving rudely off camera and out of the spotlight. And I've been thrilled when someone like Amy Irving is as lovely and gracious as can be, or Dina Merrill is every bit as stunning and classy from 10 feet away as she is on the silver screen. This just doesn't happen when you go to the movies, but it often happens when you work the house at intermission.
"I feel that, while you must NOT talk during the performance, at intermission you MUST talk to someone -- your date, your friend, the family behind you that is visiting from Germany, the older woman next to you from Minneapolis who is in visiting her daughter. Theater is a great equalizer and common denominator. I'm often surprised by connections, opinions, and stories told by those seated around me. And if you want some great tales, chat up an usher who looks like he or she arrived with the seats and curtains. They've often worked a lot of houses and have terrific stories to tell.
"At a bad show, intermission gives you the opportunity to start dishing early. Can it get any worse in the second act? You talk to your neighbors about other turkeys you've seen. I've had better discussions with strangers at bad shows than at good ones. At good ones, everyone simply says, 'Isn't this great?' At bad ones, you rip into the writing, the acting, the music, the production values -- for there's much more detail and emotion. You get that 'shared survivor' experience going. You also get to scan the house to see who's not coming back. Maybe half your row leaves, maybe half the house leaves, people leave angry, people run out to try to get home and catch NYPD Blue and salvage the evening. And in the cell phone age, you get to see people walking up the aisles already calling ahead to say how bad it is. It's a circus, and I love it. But at a good show, I love the way the buzz and excitement builds during intermission. The intermissions at Hairspray (and I've been three times) and The Producers were electric, the air was crackling. At the Sondheim Celebration in D.C., the intermissions were like wedding receptions where you really like the bride and groom, for everyone was ecstatic and having a great time. Intermission at a great show is like getting a chance to bask in the afterglow of terrific sex while simultaneously filling with anticipation and delight because you know that you get to go back for seconds."
And speaking of sex -- Curtis had something to say on that subject, too. "I'm single and gay. Intermission at a Broadway theater is cruisier than walking down Eighth Avenue in Chelsea on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Granted, there aren't as many buffed bods; but, thankfully, there's much less attitude and a built-in shared experience, perfect for starting a conversation. One of the greatest 'meet cute' stories for anyone has to be, 'We met at intermission -- and the musical's love song became our song.' Even if the show was terrible, they can say, 'Well, at least I got a romance out of it!'"
What I don't understand is how someone who sounds so terrific and interesting can still be single. So, gentle reader, more I cannot wish you or Bill Curtis than, at some intermission, for your eyes to meet across a crowded theater, and for this to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We know that Curtis will have his eyes out, looking for you; now, you look for him, too.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]