FROM TC: According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 40% of the 1,244 arts organizations who responded are worried about audience member's attention spans decreasing due to the mobile generation's need for instant gratification. So how long is too long for today's audiences?


Commentary: Marathon play-viewing can forge an enduring bond for audiences

Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times, 11/25/12

Done poorly, [a marathon play or performance piece] can seem like an endurance test or a stunt. Done brilliantly it can be transformational for those watching it. Its exemplars are monumental, magisterial works like the RSC's production of Nicholas Nickleby, which clocked in at 8 1/2 hours in two parts (dinner break included). Or The Mahabharata, a nine-hour stage play of the Hindu epic, directed by Peter Brook. [M]arathon stage works attempt to deliver an artistic experience not of mere diversion but full immersion. Despite or, perhaps, because of their length, they aim to make audiences fully complicit in creating an evening-long alternate reality. "Once you say that the telling of this tale is going to involve an investment of considerably more time, you find ways to -- first of all -- believe in it totally," says Gordon Davidson, who oversaw the development of theatrical sagas such as Tony Kushner's Angels in America, The Cider House Rules, The Kentucky Cycle and the six-hour cycle of "Floating Islands" plays by Eduardo Machado. Davidson says that when he first saw Gatz [a 6 1/2-hour, word-for-word reading-cum-enactment of The Great Gatsby] performed in New York, "the performers were so committed, and the structure of it lent itself, if you sat back and relaxed and listened, they created a world for you." Of course, short plays can do the same thing. But marathon plays, at their most effective, require an act of sustained imaginative commitment that can turn an audience of disparate individuals into a pop-up community, forging a bond that endures far longer than the walk back to the parking lot.


Commentary: In an era of TV binge-watching, why is The Ring Cycle "too long"?

Jake Osborne, Arts Hub [Australia], 2/7/13

'Wagner's operas are just too long'. This criticism has been leveled since his operas were first produced. The Ring Cycle has a gargantuan 15 hour running time. Is this just too long for a 21st century audience?  An obvious comparison to The Ring Cycle is Lord of the Rings. The theatrical release of the [three] films reaches a combined run time of 9.3 hours and the Director's Cut runs to more than 12 hours. Yet our culture is still ravenously consuming Lord of the Rings. Perhaps the biggest contemporary artistic achievements that compare in length to Wagner's epics are television dramas [like] Game of Thrones -- perhaps the most comparable to Wagner's epic in being a fantasy-set character study. If you were to watch the entire first season in one sitting, you're looking at a good ten hours of entertainment. Yet brevity is never an issue for Game of Thrones fans. Perhaps the main reason that Wagner is too long for today's society is the monologues of recapitulation.  To ensure each opera can be viewed independently, each episode after Das Rhinegold contains some sort of character interaction that repeats the events that have occurred up to this point. Despite intelligent contextualisation, these sections take up a large portion of time, and while some new elements may be introduced to the narrative, if one has viewed every part up to this point, it is largely repetitive and slows the overall dramatic pace of the story. Modern television does this too but instead of contextualizing the reminders in the narrative, an episode typically begins with a quick 'previously on...' montage that repeats scenes and details relevant to the episode to come. The brevity and swiftness of these sections stops them from interfering with the narrative immersion. For today's faster-paced society this technique is more effective than the Wagner solution.


Commentary: The lowered expectations of marathon viewings of TV series

Robert David Sullivan, Extra Criticum, 2/20/13

You might think that binge-watching a TV series, or going through an entire season in one day, is a sign that the series is really good. That is, each episode is so satisfying that you can't wait to get to the next one. But TV critic Jaime Weinman, in contemplating Netflix's decision to put all 13 episodes of its original series House of Cards online on the same day, suggests that binge-watching might be a way of managing expectations:

"Watching an episode a week tends to inflate the importance of every episode, sometimes beyond what a single TV episode can sustain. This, I think, is part of the reason that we're more likely to be disappointed by new episodes of a series when they appear once a week, and why seasons often look better when they go to DVD or to daily syndication. The shorter the wait between episodes, the less of a life-or-death proposition every episode becomes."

My Extra Criticum colleague Bruce Ward writes that this style of watching is "akin to a passionate and intense love affair." But as the Cole Porter song goes, sometimes an affair is "too hot not to cool down." It's a familiar story: dated True Blood, married Mad Men.  Other than a few miniseries, I can't think of a serialized TV show that I really enjoyed without watching it on a weekly basis. All with recaps/reviews and debriefings with friends who are also watching. It helps that these series have such carefully considered endings to each episode, down to the music over the credits.


Commentary: Combat under-30's ADD with classical music version of MTV

Paula Wertheim, Executive Director-HDAudioPlus/, 10/4/12 
The big question dogging classical musicians [and] classical music record label execs up at night: how to compete with YouTube and MTV for the microscopic attention spans of the under-30 population suffering from congenital "ADD"? Answer: You fight fire with fire by giving them "Classical MTV". Here [are examples of] how we did it on video sharing sites around the globe:

1. "The Baroque 24/7 Gallery" on the Behance Network
2. "The Greatest Show in the Universe" on Vimeo:
3. Parry-Jerusalem, Arne-Rule,Britannia!, and Purcell-Fantasia -Three Parts Upon A Ground on

Since we started posting in May, to our amazement, it was the classical videos which consistently received the highest overall rankings. Keep in mind that the entire concept of selling classical music via MTV was only an "afterthought" to promote our music codec developed especially for the classical music market. Obviously the entire problem won't go away overnight simply by feeding the public MTV classical music videos. But it ain't such a bad start, either! 


Reply: Don't assume under-30s have a short attention span

Greg Sandow on his ArtsJournal blog, 10/5/12

Hi, Paula, I'm eager to see the videos. And I love your creative response to a complex problem. With all respect, though, I'd be wary of saying that younger people have short attention spans. They play videogames, which require long, focused attention. More to the point, younger people design videogames, programming them for hours on end. They design websites. They create apps (hours and hours of programming, once more). They make films. They produce albums and videos. The lesson here, I think, is that people pay attention to what they want to pay attention to. We have a new generation (or, by now, more than one) that doesn't pay attention to some of the things we like, classical music included. Which might be something we could or should try to change. But it's no reason to say they won't pay attention to anything that isn't short and lively.

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