You know how it is... You have been sitting watching a really good play then all of a sudden the lights go out and go on promptly and you are left with ten minutes to thirty minutes of your life to occupy in a manner that has some meaning (or not as the mood takes you).
Now, the theatres and cultural establishments have a myriad of reasons for encouraging these breaks. Sometimes, they are necessary to change sets but mostly, the breaks are arbitrary; good excuses to encourage the audience to go out and buy drinks and over-priced ice creams.
As you may have gathered, I am not a fan of intervals. I have seen many a production lose its momentum as a result of this break. Having said that, I do not seem to be alone. If you gaze around the auditorium during the interval, lots of the audience members are sitting around, reading their programmes, dissecting the remnants of their lives in the electronic devices they choose to connect with at the expense of their souls. I seem to be at the point of my life where celebrating the immediacy of the moment is very important. Now just think what could be done with the time spent during the intervals. People could actually talk about their experiences with each other. You are all collectively watching a performance. This is a shared experience. Alternatively, a more subversive use of the interval could be devised. For fun, you could jump up on stage or if you are slightly more conservative, stand in front of the stage, then recite either your own creative works or those of others. Alternatively, just think of the stage as the equivalent of Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, espouse rhetoric and radical theories at the captive audience, salivating at the prospect of the second half of the performance. Personally, I like the idea of jumping on stage and moving the props. Just think how excited the performers would be to return to the stage to discover that the book that eventually leads to the denouement of the narrative has disappeared.
But on a serious note, I feel that it may be worth exploring the value of intervals. They are the equivalent of Limbo or that little area next to the River Styx, where you wait for the Ferryman to take you off to the Underworld. It is a space of dead time. It can and has been used creatively, the most recent production of 'Mother Courage' at the National Theatre continued filling the interval with the sounds and actions of war as the stage was radically altered. This production resonated even more owing to this attention to detail. The never ending war continues even when the actors stop for a pee and a drink.
Reclaim the intervals, start using them as a springboard for creativity or social change. The minutes add up and there is only so much time you can waste queueing at the bar (or for the toilets)!
Barry Watt - 3rd August 2014.
'Mother Courage (and Her Children)' was written by Bertolt Brecht and was last performed at the National Theatre in London in 2009 with Fiona Shaw and Duke Special. A truly memorable performance.