Last week, my sister invited me to be her date to Beauty & the Beast at the Winspear Opera House. I happily obliged, because I'm a sucker for nostalgia. She's also a member of the press, so we had killer seats in the center of the orchestra section. We purchased our sippy cups of wine that we could cry into when the blissful memories of childhood became too much. We plopped into our seats and as the familiar melody of the overture began to play, we both realized we would very quickly be in need of trips to the restroom. She climbed over the patrons to our left, eliciting what sounded like, "are you f**king kidding?" And I cowered in my seat, legs crossed, praying for intermission.
Not five days later, The New York Times published an article about the history of intermission, noting that in the early years of the opera it was customary to leave your seat, grab a drink or even play cards while the music played on in the auditorium. Productions were social events, without rigid rules about when you were or were not allowed to use the restroom. The article goes on to point out that when intermissions were first introduced as long breaks from performances, "they were filled with complementary programming: Clara Schumann was exasperated to hear organ arrangements of compositions by her husband, Robert, in an interval during one of her recitals at the Hanover Square Rooms in London."
Even during the longer intermissions of 20-30 minutes that exist today, there is often barely enough time to grab a drink at the bar, or make it to the front of the line for the restroom. And many theater companies around the city (Kitchen Dog Theater, for example) rarely program plays with intermissions, instead choosing 90-100 minute shows. To hear many of the local theater critics talk about their love of intermission-less shows would make you believe they had cast-iron bladders. What they like is avoiding a jolting embrace of reality interrupting a show's rising energy.
Hundreds of years ago, if you needed to stretch your legs during an opera, no one would've accused you of being less culturally savvy. They would've asked you to join the game of hearts they were playing in the lobby. This culture of shaming audience members into staying in their seats or remaining completely silent is altogether modern.
I say we get rid of intermission entirely. But if we're going to keep it, can I at least be allowed to use the restroom whenever I damn well please without dirty looks and curse words? It was a children's show after all, ma'am on the aisle of Row P.
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