In my life, I am required to measure my work in billable hours. My free time is generally limited and precious. So when I find myself sitting in a show I am not enjoying, I have now started to leave at intermission. I used to stay for the whole show even if it made my skin crawl. But I've reached a place in my life where I don't need to torture myself. Even if a second Act becomes amazing I am not sure it will make up for the pain of a really bad first Act.
I can think of only one instance in my life (before 2011) when I actually left before the end of a show. I had to attend a show for work. It was some sort of "I'm Jewish-Italian-Obnoxious" one-man show. I knew it was not the type of material my company was interested in and after suffering through a lot of stereotypes (for full disclosure I am 100% Italian) I could not stand it any longer and left.
I will wait until intermission but I don't think they want me in the audience just to fill a seat if I am not enjoying the work being done.
Recently I left two shows. The first was The Public Theater production of King Lear. I know how the play ends. After a particularly painful first Act I went on twitter and asked around if it was worth sticking it out. The twitter-verse said to run for my life. So I did.
I also left a preview of Road to Mecca. I feel a little guilty about this because of the illustrious actors in the show (Rosemary Harris and Jim Dale). But the first Act was painfully slow. I felt no sympathy towards any of the characters. And the lights got so dim I thought I might be having a stroke. My friend was getting fidgety and I decided it was worth leaving. When the best moment of the show is the older couple behind me arguing about the candy-wrapper announcement ("Why should I unwrap my candies now? It's not like they can hear me onstage unwrap it."), then I think it might be best to cut your losses. It just was not the show for me.
I find it funny that every review of Road to Mecca seems to talk about how slow the first Act is and the fact that it takes AN HOUR to get to the actual reason anyone is in the theater. Some reviewers claim it's worth staying for the second Act. I am comfortable with my choice.
I have also given up on certain play series. I happened to see the original Angels in America on Broadway. Certainly a stunning achievement in its own right but it was a powerful personal experience for me. I will admit it was the only time in my whole life I ever stage-doored. It was for Tony Kushner. Only autograph I ever asked for. I'm a weird, weird theater-nerd.
I was really excited when I heard the Signature Theater was reviving Angels in America and I would have a chance to revisit it, all these years later. However, after seeing the Signature's Millennium Approaches (with the replacement cast) I could not bring myself to go back the next day to see Perestroika. Seeing a work I had always found to be well-written dragged down by terrible performances drifting into stereotype....I just could not see something I held so dear ruined. Also some falling snow caught on fire and was maybe the best part of the show...My friend and I were desperately hoping we would be evacuated because the theater would burst into flames. Never the kind of feeling you actually want to have at a show.
I had not fully appreciated how incredible the original actors were until I saw the same words spoken by less incredible performers. I can still hear Marcia Gay Harden's voice and line delivery all these years later. She created a character who oscillated between powerful and powerless with skill, care and delicacy. She could be child-like without being childish. She could be vulnerable and yet biting. I thought she was great when I first saw it but seeing another actress attempt the same role and miss made me appreciate her work so much more. All the complexities of the text that the original actors brought to the stage just seemed entirely absent in the revival. It is clearly a play that requires deft hands and careful interpretation.
I learned something from the experience. But that didn't mean I needed to see Part II.
The same could be said for The Coast of Utopia. For those who know me in my former life, you know Ethan Hawke and I have a history (I mean like personally) and I will only begrudgingly go see his stage work if I have to. But I like Stoppard--it turns out, some Stoppard and not all Stoppard. I bought the ticket to all three parts of Coast of Utopia. I made it through two of them. If there was a Russian train I could have thrown myself in front of to stop the madness, I would have. Let's just say no one could make me go see Part III.
NPR has a discussion about this topic today. They mention second-Acting. I wonder if there would be a way to coordinate my bolting with someone else wanting to Second-Act so that net-net the audience size remains the same.
What about you? Do you bolt when things are not going well? Or do you stick it out to be respectful.