When I take my seat in the theater, just before curtain, the first thing I do is open the program. The first thing I look for is that line that says something like "Act one: 60 minutes. Intermission: 15 minutes. Act two: 45 minutes."
Usually there no such line in the program. It's a lovely little bonus when it's there.
I'm usually at the play at least partly for work purposes, and I'm going to stay for the duration no matter what, so it kind of doesn't matter how long it is. I often like shorter shows just because I appreciate compact playwriting. But mostly I just like to know. I hate going to show and settling in, mentally and physically prepared for a normal two-hour-or-so run time, and then eventually discovering it's somewhere close to twice that.
I asked a lot of my theater-going friends on Facebook. Most of them said they liked to know. Some of them felt passionately about it. Most of them had more concrete reasons than mine.
"We usually require a sitter to see a show, so yes, we have to be able to give the sitter a rough guess when we'll be home, so we like to know running time," said my friend Ned Averill-Snell, an actor and playwright who works often in the Sarasota and St. Petersburg area.
Lots of people shared that type of concern. They said they wanted to know before they left for the show so they could make child-care plans, or -- although it's not usually a concern in Bradenton -- how much money to put in parking meters.
Others said that they're uncomfortable sitting for along time, so if a show's going to last three hours they'd prefer not to go.
Some said they might not go to a show on a weeknight if they knew it wasn't going to end until 11 p.m. If it ended around 10, they'd go.
There's the other extreme too. Some years ago I recommended a dance concert to a friend of mine. I knew the dance company but hadn't seen the particular show. He and his wife paid a sitter, went out to dinner, paid for tickets to the show and then were bitterly disappointed that it was only 45 minutes long.
Most people who work in theaters agree
that it's a good idea to let the audience know the running time.
Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director for Manatee Players, said that when he goes to other theaters he likes to know how long a show he's in for.
"I know I appreciate it," he said. "You kind can of gauge your night, decide whether you want to use the restroom before the show or wait until intermission."
Still, Manatee Players doesn't put the running time in the program -- mostly because the programs are printed in advance, when the show is still in flux -- or post it anywhere in the theater. But everyone who works in the theater, from the box office people to the bartenders, has a pretty accurate idea of how long the show is and knows whether there's an intermission.
Jason White, the marketing director at the Players Theatre in Sarasota, said pretty much the same thing. He'll put the running time in the program if he knows it in time, but he doesn't always have the information before the program is printed. The box office staff knows by the time most people are ordering tickets, though.
It's a little harder at places that host touring shows. The people Van Wezel told me that their box office staff tells advance ticket-buyers that each show will be about two hours long. It's not until the day of the show that they find out from the touring company the accurate time and whether there's an intermission.
By that time, of course, most people have already made plans for a two-hour show.
For some people, myself included, not having an idea of a show's length can really upset the experience.
One friend of mine, Bill Leavengood, a playwright and teacher from Pinellas County named, once brought students to the ballet at a large area theater.
"When we saw the 'Sleeping Beauty' ballet, the box office said it was two hours long," he said. "As they continued to take extra bows at the three-and-a-half hour mark, I was hating the whole show. We had a bus and parents waiting outside."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.