Keep Your Running Times in Check

Jennifer Butler

Time is key in many aspects of theater when it comes to putting together a production. You have the time period of finding a director for the show until closing, strike and everything in between. It is a word that is thrown around a lot within and about a production. Time for auditions, time for a production meeting, time for opening night, and sadly (for those of us who love what we do) time for the show to close. But most importantly the word time is key when it comes to the running time of a theater production.

The length of a show is a big thing that we face as an industry. We have a story to tell and we want to get it across but it can’t take too long. If you run the show too long you risk losing the audience but if it’s too short and important details are left out, does the audience follow the story?  It takes a lot to get your show down to the right running time and sometimes even at final dress rehearsal it might be off. I once worked on a show where one particular scene was carried by one actor who couldn’t find the proper pace causing the timing was all over the place. Each performance varied in time and we never quite knew what we were going to get or how our audience was going to react.

Another example comes in to play when the director wanted to add something to a show that the script did not originally call for, it added time and was debated as to whether it was necessary or not depending on who you asked. Our audience also played into the factor as to whether I felt it was worth it or not. Their reaction, in the end, is what made all the difference.

Scene transitions can play a major factor into a running time of a production also. They need to be smooth and quick so the story flows smoothly along to the next location.

So finding the right running time for a production is not just a challenge that is faced on the community theater level. Professional Broadway productions have gone through this when transitioning from their Pre-Broadway tryouts to opening night on Broadway. I have heard of professional productions eliminating songs because they didn’t fit well and made the production longer than it needed to be.

In the end, when you go through all the trouble to figure out the right running time, it can make all the difference. It does not seem like something major at first but it can affect whether or not people want to come see another show at your theater.