Commentary: Do shorter plays have audiences' Number?

John Moore, The Denver Post, 5/13/11

The Curious Theatre Company just closed a play that ran for 3 hours and 45 minutes. On Saturday, it opens one that's over in a lickety-split 57 minutes.  In theater, so the saying goes, a play needs to be as long as a play needs to be.   Oh, who are we kidding?  Almost every play could be made shorter...and better.  It all depends on the play -- and the performance. "I have been to 10-minute plays where I have wanted to have my eyes gouged out, and I have been to 10-hour plays that went by like that," said Christy Montour-Larson, director of Curious Theatre's [production of] A Number [by]Caryl Churchill.  The centuries-old expectation that an evening of live theater should occupy your full evening has given way of late to "get-in, get-out" new plays with no intermission -- then it's off to dinner, a party or home to relieve the babysitter. Perfect for our busy, modern lives.  But 57 minutes? When audiences are asked to pay the same $18-$42 they were asked to pay for Tony Kushner's draining marathon, Homebody/Kabul?  Montour-Larson has seen a trend toward shorter plays -- and that's not necessarily good news for [A Number actor] John Hutton, who is perhaps best known for his work on epics.  He'll open the next Denver Center season in Shaw's massive Heartbreak House -- "and that's not for sissies," he said.  "But that's what theater is.  It requires enormous participation from the audience."   But if the trend toward short plays takes root, we could be training audiences to no longer be patient with the occasional full-length staging, like Heartbreak House. Montour-Larson sees room for both -- and an apt analogy in baseball. "Like theater, baseball is not run on a clock," she said. "The game takes as long as it takes."


Commentary: In praise of shortened attention spans

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal, 5/13/11

The latest alleged trend to set the world in a tizzy is the Crisis of Shorter Attention Spans, a dire development that has been brought about by the rise of the Internet. Or texting. Or iTunes. Or Twitter. Or whatever. I find it hard to get upset about this existential threat to Western civilization, though, perhaps because I'm part of the problem. My attention span is much shorter now than it was a decade ago -- and that's just fine with me.  Part of the "problem," after all, turns out to be that Americans have gotten smarter, or at least quicker on the uptake. Take a look at any TV sitcom of the 1950s and '60s and compare it to modern-day televised fare. It's startling to see how slow-moving those old shows were. The same thing is true of live theater. The leisurely expositions of yesteryear, it turns out, aren't necessary: You can count on contemporary audiences to get the point and see where you're headed, and they don't want to wait around for you to catch up with them.  Does this mean that the discursive masterworks of the past are no longer accessible? Yes and no. A great work of art that is organically long, like The Marriage of Figaro or Remembrance of Things Past, will never lack for audiences.  But just as most of Shakespeare's plays can and should be cut in performance, so should today's artists always keep in mind that most of us are too busy to watch as they circle the airport, looking for a place to land.


Commentary: How can the arts draw volunteers in an era of short attention spans?

Susan J. Ellis, Energize Inc. blog, 5/11

We live in a world of very short attention spans.  And, in volunteering, single days of service and micro-volunteering attract much attention.  How do we continue to recruit the volunteers we need for the long haul?  And how can you interest new volunteers in supporting the arts...or anything not addressing human services?  You either need to compete directly with the cause du jour or show your relation to it.  Is your work connected even if it's not immediately obvious?  For example, after Hurricane Katrina, local arts organizations and libraries made the case that they affected the quality of life, which was a part of rebuilding the community.  Use all such approaches in your recruitment efforts and materials.  Also, make sure to keep your active volunteers abreast of the same information.   You don't want them to begin wondering if the cause du jour is more worthy of their time than your cause.


Commentary: Make your fundraising appeal stand out with a shortened approach

Sam Horn, National Arts Marketing Project blog, 5/5/11

People are busy.  We have about one minute, max, to get their interest.  If we don't quickly prove we're worth their valuable time and mind, they'll mentally move on.  What do you care about?  Whether that's getting funded or getting a yes; you'll be able to win buy-in and motivate decision-makers to care about what you care about if you use this approach to pop your message in the first 60 seconds:

Step 1:  Ask yourself, "What are three things my decision-makers don't know -- and would like to know -- about my idea, issue, organization or initiative?" 

Step 2:  Craft the insights you get from the above questions into 3 startling "Did you know?" questions. 

Step 3:  Use the word "Imagine" to paint a word picture of your solution. The word "imagine" helps people SEE what you're saying so they're viscerally experiencing it.   Combining feelings and facts appeals to your audience's right AND left brain.  Now, they're fully engaged.

Step 4:  Showcase only the top three beneficial aspects of your solution or offering.  Giving just enough information actually makes it easier for people to say yes.  Why three?  Three is a powerful oratorical device that sets up a rhythmic flow.  Stacking sentences creates a cumulative effect that is easy to follow and believe.

Step 5:   Wrap up with "You don't have to imagine it... we've created it."  Offering social proof (quote from respected publication, testimonial or demonstration) moves your audience from thinking how much they'd like this ideal scenario to realizing it's already available. 


Quote of the Day

"Tell it to me.  Come on.  You can't tell it to me in one sentence, they can't put it in T.V. Guide.  What is this movie that you're going to make?"

--from the play Speed-The-Plow by David Mamet

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