- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.
Monday, September 09, 2013
It’s been an absolute pleasure to bring Why We Left Brooklyn to the stage. Despite what I feel is a predisposition to characterize the play as snark (it’s sincere), I feel like a lot of audience members are finding themselves, for good or ill, reflected in the play’s story and characters. That’s what we’re here for, and I’m proud of it. The cast is brilliant, the play works, and we’ve gotten lots of great responses.
I’ll leave criticisms and praise, mostly, uncommented upon. That’s the way these things go. We make them, offer them up, and they are digested by the world as the world sees fit. That’s the fun and the danger and the risk and the reward. There is, though, one bit of stagecraft, a choice we made, that has surprised me by how regularly it’s been commented upon and how strangely controversial it seems to be.
Why We Left Brooklyn has two intermissions.
I recognize that this is extremely uncommon in this day and age. When David Mamet puts plays on Broadway that are an intermissionless hour and fifteen minutes, you know the days of the three act drama are few.
We did, therefore, put a great deal of thought and time into choosing to produce this particular play in this particular way. I’d love to share some of the thinking behind why we chose to present Why We Left Brooklyn with two intermissions. That's why I have a blog, after all.
1) It is a play in three acts. My goal in writing Why We Left Brooklyn was to create very a traditional, even old-fashioned, play with contemporary characters. I wanted to see what I could do if I left my usual poetic or absurdist flourishes this time. It was a decision to try something new, to challenge myself. The three act structure might be an older structure, but it’s a sturdy one. Instead of apologizing for it, we decided to embrace the play as it is, and not try to smooth over the structure or fight it. (Interestingly enough, I’ve written two other three-act plays, The Great Escape and The Most Wonderful Love - which was nearly three hours long. Neither of their structures received this kind of comment.)
2) The acts are of varying lengths. The first act of Why We Left Brooklyn is just over 30 minutes long. The second act is a full hour. The third is about twenty five minutes. This makes good sense structurally – the first act sets up characters and introductions, establishes our themes and conflicts. The second act is the meat of the play and moves towards our primary dramatic moments. The third act offers relief, reveals and resolution. If we had chosen only one intermission…where should it have gone? After the first, brief act, so the audience is surprised to find itself sitting for another full 90 minutes without a break? Or after the first hour and a half, only to come back for less than half an hour? We opted to give each act its own time and space, to balance things out, instead of a lopsided experience for the audience, one way or another.
3) Two hours without an intermission? An option was to perform the text without an intermission. Theatergoers are used to 90 minutes without an intermission, and they’re also used to at least one intermission for a fuller evening. If we had presented Why We Left Brooklyn with no intermission at all, that would have been a full two hours of high-speed, single-set conversation. A recipe for exhausted patience Audiences would have been right to complain if they had gotten no opportunities to use the bathroom or Tweet.
4) Length. The intermissions are not long. We opted for two 5 minute intermissions. As they play begins at 7:30pm and is two hours or so in length, that means even with both intermissions, the audience leaves the theater by 9:45pm at the latest. The difference between completing the performance at 9:30pm versus around 9:45pm felt pretty negligible, so we felt like we could afford the brief intervals. Plus, as audiences thus far haven't made a mass exodus to the restrooms, we've found that the intermissions are pretty quickly concluded.
5) No surprises. Because we fully acknowledge that two intermissions is uncommon these days, we announce that there are two five minute intermissions at the top of the show (right when we tell everyone to turn off their cell phones) and of course note it in the program. We wanted to avoid that moment when an audience members scans the room, puzzled and says "Is that the end?" We made every effort to make sure the audience experience is good and seamless. This isn't a test of resolve, it's a play.
6) A breath. Often, we begin to think of our limitations as strengths. We’ve come to believe, perhaps, that 90 minutes without an intermission is a better structure, even if it's probably because we fear we can’t hold an audience’s attention for much longer. Or we have come to think of momentum as a more important virtue that engagement. Or efficiency as superior to abundance. For me, personally, I enjoy the sense of anticipation that episodic work employs. Even a moment to think about what you just saw, and then move forward, I believe that can deepen a playgoing experience.
I’m happy to be disagreed with, but I thought it might be useful to share my perspective on the choice.
I hope you’ll come experience the show for yourselves and let us know what you think.
Posted by Freeman at 1:21 PM