I Want To Start A Revolution

by Lynn on March 2, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

When we ‘return’ in person to the theatre, I want every performance to start exactly at the time noted on the ticket. I don’t want to have to wait the traditional seven minutes for ‘late comers’. We’ve waited long enough to get back into a ‘real’ theatre. The ‘hold’ time used to be five minutes. Then it stretched to seven. Waiting. For the latecomers.


Ninety-nine-point nine percent of the audience are in their seats by the noted start time. One hundred percent of the cast and crew are in the building way before that noted start time, ready to ‘go on’. One hundred percent of the front of house, the usher and the box office are in the building ready to serve. But we’re waiting seven minutes for latecomers.


Even when we do start seven minutes after the advertised start time, there are still latecomers who are allowed in “at a suitable break in the action” thus distracting our attention and that of the cast to what is going on on stage. This enables the latecomer to be late.


This time of isolation, with lots of time spent missing live theatre, had me thinking about the theatre and how I love it and how whole worlds can be changed because of it. This idea came to me when I participated in three different ‘productions’ that involved telephone calls.

Outside the March produced The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries in which I had to suggest a mystery I wanted them to solve and then in a series of six phone calls over six days to be delivered at the times I specified, I would be called and questioned and my mystery would ultimately be solved. With Convergence Theatre there were The CORONA Variations in which I would receive six phone calls at specified times over an evening in which I would hear a scene, speech, exchange between actors etc. And finally, with 4th Line Theatre Company I could arrange to hear any one of 27 monologues from previous produced plays of the company, again at specified times and days. I chose to hear all 27 monologues, delivered at various times during one week.

In every single instance except one, I received the phone call at exactly the time I requested. With one exception. With that exception the actor was late by 10 minutes. “Is he dead?” I wondered. “Did he forget?” “Did I get the time wrong?” No. He was all apologetic when he finally called. He was fishing. Huh? FISHING!!! And he got all caught up in the exercise. “Did you catch anything?” I enquired. He did but he let it go. “HUH?” I quizzed. It was catch-and-release. He caught it. Admired it. And let it go in a humane way, although I’m sure that hook gave the fish some pause. But I digress.

Actors can start a ‘show’ on time. The audience is willing and anxious to start on time. The stage managers are chomping at the bit as is the crew etc. The Front of House is holding to wait for the stragglers. I have heard that some valiant stage managers have started anyway—bless them.

I’m seeing lots of innovation of companies trying to negotiate the on-line world of Zoom and digital programming. Bravo. But there are also hints that in spite of the new adaptation to the digital world they are holding on to the ‘old ways’ and ‘productions’ start late. I saw two on-line shows recently: Orestes from Tarragon and Scott Silven’s The Journey through TO LIVE and both started late Orestes started at 8:07 pm (!) and the nice man managing the start of Scott Silven’s The Journey said he was holding for a few minutes because there were people who had not signed in yet, even though we were told to sign in a half an hour early. I said, “They are at home! What are we waiting for?” He was sheepish. We are enabling people who are always late to continue to be late.


I’m told my request is complicated. It’s tradition to start late and wait. Perhaps late patrons were stuck in traffic, or couldn’t find a parking spot and they paid a lot of money for the ticket, so we wait, which only enables that behaviour.

Enough and tough.

Earlier in the pandemic the Stratford Festival gave over its social media platforms first to Black and then Indigenous actors to talk about the racist issues they had to endure, hurtful comments they had to listen to, unfair practices they had to accept. The results were revolutionary for a place that was complicated, steeped in tradition and thought it was acting with good intentions. After those discussions the “As Cast” contract was cancelled for the future. The whole idea of hours of rehearsal, work week, the horribleness of tech week etc. was being closely examined and changed.  That was revolutionary.

When Robin Phillips was the Artistic Director of Stratford, he wanted every performance to start exactly on time. People questioned how that would be accomplished considering people are sometimes late. “We start on time. People will be late once when they see they missed out.” Or words to that effect. I can’t remember when or if latecomers were allowed in during the show. The point is that is has been done successfully.

Ok. Start on time. It can be done. It’s always complicated, but not impossible. We’ve seen how companies have adapted to this lousy time. Fix this problem of waiting now so we hit the road running when we come back. Tradition? Change it, for the better. Stuck in traffic? Leave earlier—the whole rest of the waiting audience left early.  The late patron paid a lot of money for the ticket? Yeah, so did the rest of the waiting audience. The cost of the ticket implies you are there at the time stated on the ticket as your part of the bargain. I don’t know of any reputable business that caters to the exception to the rule rather than the majority. No plane or train waits for the latecomer.  

Time for the late patron to take the responsibility and the consequences. You won’t be allowed in until intermission—that way no one is disturbed or focus is ‘pulled out of the show,’ or distracted and the latecomer is not embarrassed. Forgive my distrust but if you let a person in to sit at the back until intermission, what’s to prevent them from lurching around in the dark to go to their assigned seats and disturb everybody? There are consequences if you are late, even if it’s not your fault. You wait in the lobby watching the show on the tv until intermission. 

No intermission? Work it out. Ok perhaps sit them at the back of the theatre. I don’t know. Work it out, but holding the curtain is not the answer.  And start now to tell your patrons that when we all gather in a theatre to watch a play together we are starting on the dot of on time. We are not waiting seven minutes because we’ve waited enough to return. Be aware. Be prepared. New day dawning.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Allan Calverley March 2, 2021 at 5:52 pm

Brava Lynn. I so agree with your peeve. Enough of the rude behaviour that has been catered to for so long. It is rude and it is unacceptable. Enough, indeed! I applaud the COC they’ve got it right and won’t admit any latecomers and patrons and those who leave-return-again. They enforce having those who leave or are late to have to wait outside the auditorium until intermission. Video screens are available in the lobby to view the production while waiting. It’s a life lesson and an effective learning tool. In addition, it might be a good idea for theatres to develop a (social) contract written on tickets that list promises by the theatre to the audience plus the expectations of audience members who attend theatres. It might be beneficial. There are many more peeves that theatre goers have had to endure that need to be addressed but perhaps another day. Hugs!


2 Lynn Slotkin March 3, 2021 at 11:34 am

Much thanks, Allan. It seems a lot of people are peeved by this practice. Time to let the powers that be–House Managers, Artistic Directors, Executive Directors–know we want to start on time. When they hear it enough times, something will be done. If no one says anything, nothing is done. When people start to complain properly, things happen for the better. Let’s get started.


3 Joe Szekeres March 3, 2021 at 8:29 pm

Bravo, Lynn. I’m sharing this to all theatre companies as well. A new day is dawning indeed, and there’s big change on the horizon. Hugs to you.


4 Lynn March 4, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Sure, Joe, thanks. Share away. All the best,


5 Paul Dixon March 4, 2021 at 12:56 am

Your thoughts are great in an ideal world. However, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Hell, I’ve even thought that people who sit in the middle of a row should have to arrive earlier than those who sit closer to or on the aisle. Think how marvelously comfortable and convenient it would be!

Here’s the thing. You’re sitting there, and someone comes in a few minutes late. You’re irritated, understandably, and I think it’s safe to say that most latecomers know they’re irritating those of us already seated. Unfortunately, for us, we don’t know if the latecomers are typically late or whether we are experiencing the first and only time they’ve been late. Should they really be punished for this rare indiscretion? They did pay, and we don’t know why they’re late.

Has no one ever been late for anything? Ever? I’m willing to bet against that, and as such, while I’m irritated, I will not cast that first stone.


6 Dean Gabourie March 4, 2021 at 2:52 am

You REALLY haven’t got a fuck of a lot to worry about, do you?
Are you deaf dumb and BLind as well as talentless?
Privileged OLD COOT!
Not a SOUL gives a flying fuck about YOU, your attendance, or your opinion.


7 Alisa Palmer March 4, 2021 at 2:06 pm

Hi Dean, It’s fine to disagree but your comment seems rather extreme and personal. I’ve always know you to be such a kind person.
I hope you and yours are doing ok during these challenging times. Take care of yourself and those whom you love.


8 Joe Szekeres March 5, 2021 at 10:01 am

Dean – I can’t stand by and read such disrespectful language used because you disagree with a view presented. Extremely disrespectful. Yes, it’s alright to respectfully disagree with someone and a view presented. We live in a world where differing views must be shared, and yes it’s alright to disagree RESPECTFULLY when a view is presented. That’s the world in which we live and the price we pay to live here. If you don’t want to follow what Lynn has to say, don’t follow or read what Lynn has to say. To quote Judge Judy, “Play nice”.

However, to use foul language because you disagree? Not acceptable, not fair, not one bit. Your comments here are not inclusive at all. They are destructive. I never, ever allowed these kind of comments neither from students nor from anyone else, when I taught school for 33 years.

As Alisa Palmer says, I hope you take care of yourself and those whom you love, and I hope you are doing alright during this horrific time in which we now find ourselves. Most importantly, I wish you peace on all accounts.


9 Cecil Rabinovitch March 4, 2021 at 10:20 am

I agree. Fully.


10 sandra pitblado March 4, 2021 at 11:42 am

BRAVO!! It has finally been said and you are absolutely right. ENOUGH!!


11 Sarah March 5, 2021 at 1:47 pm

some people have real problems. lynn slotkin has “plays don’t start on time”.


12 Natalie Kearns March 6, 2021 at 8:19 pm

This is a weirdly petty, inane problem to spend 14 paragraphs griping about. And to compare it to the issues faced by BIPOC actors as something theatres can also overcome….frankly, that’s insulting. There are many many issues facing live theatre and starting a show 7 minutes after the advertised time is at the very bottom of the list. Sure, we’d all love to start on time. But in any theatre that seats over 100 people, the simple act of ushering everyone through the doors, scanning tickets, getting settled, etc doesn’t always time out perfectly. Life happens. Theatres are unforgiving enough as it is with cancellation policies and ticket change policies being restrictive for non-subscribers.
But honestly, you come across like a privileged brat with your demands here. Paul Dixon has it right in his comment….it would work in an ideal world but our world is not ideal. You could do with a dose of humility and grace towards those who maybe hit a small snag in their day that caused them to be just a few moments later than expected.

Also, late seating is NOT the same as holding the house for less than 10 minutes. Yes, late seating is annoying. There are some companies that are much better at it than others. Some could improve their policies. But again, life happens.


13 Torey March 22, 2021 at 8:22 pm

Hi Lynne,
Theatre artist and audience member here. I am glad that you have brought this topic up. You are correct in that there is a new day dawning in theatre, and it will be so important to be prepared. I would like to posit that it is going to be more different than what we think.
I hear the importance of minding other peoples’ time, and I respect that a lot! As a cognitively disabled artist, I have grown up with a pretty intense reminder of the impacts that I have on the world, and I do a lot of extra mental and emotional labour to ensure that my disability isn’t used to monopolize someone else’s space or time. So when folks don’t respect my time, after the work I put in, I too can get pretty peeved.
Quick explanation and I hope you’ll pardon the metaphor, but it’s the fastest way to explain it: For a lot of folks like me—both on the stage and in the audience—there is a meat cleaver between the front and back lobes of the brain: I know what to do, and have been taught what to do, many times– I can’t always connect that “know what to do” to the “speak or do what I know”. Rehearsing a million times can still feel like the first time for me, even if it is the millionth, and I could still mess it up! This can be a gift AND make learning and organizing hard.
We have all heard the stereotype that most artists likely come from a mental health background. The truth is that some do and some do not. Some are even learning about cognitive differences because of the changes the pandemic has caused in their brains! The point is, there are more people like me than are talked about in the community and presented on the stage at the moment- and that is the issue.
I’m not in this industry for therapy, or some exercise in past traumas. I actually spent the first ten years of my life outside of theatre school avoiding creating anything to do with my past to avoid this stereotype too. I am here to create, as a professional, and make a living off of my storytelling while using it to affect social change. Disabilities and all.
So, is the answer for folks like me to just, not be an artist because I have more possibility to be late?
Sia already proved why that idea is hazardous!
As an artist, as a producer even, do I just have to accept that I will simply spend my life losing more audiences, auditions, jobs, shows than I gain?
As an audience member, do I just have to accept a higher possibility of missing out on opportunities to attend the theatre?
I agree with you, when you say that enough is enough:
-Theatres DO need better access plans for latecomers, and that cannot simply be reserved for relaxed performances, because folks with cognitive disabilities WILL also get that schedule wrong.
-In particular, there needs to be better approaches to latecomer policies to EXTERNALIZE the INTERNAL processes for folks who struggle with cognitive processes such as scheduling, and the option needs to be made OBVIOUS on websites as points of access.
-For right now, theatres CAN and SHOULD take the care to give a message beforehand that there MAY be a 5-10 minute delay of curtain, in order to accommodate any invisibly disabled artists or audiences. To create better communal empathy. As a general rule. (Some theatres may even embrace that with an added activity to elevate the experience.)
-On this small point, I do disagree with you: Waiting does not always enable this type of latecomer behaviour. It certainly can! But it is not so absolute. We need to look at how we are treating this communal experience in relation to all of its members, seen and unseen– And history has proven that punishment, in this case, won’t solve the problem.
Above all, when we return, there needs to be better COMMUNICATION for EMPATHY in GATHERING, let alone in THEATRE.
Otherwise, the responsibility that you and many of us are seeking will not be reached.
Yes, there is a new day dawning: One that sees, works with, even celebrates those who struggle to get to start a show on time.
I can see a variety of reactions here already– some that may or may not have already considered to perspective of disability or invisible disability in the process— which is why I chose to keep this post public. Perhaps it will get knocked down, but I do recommend filing it for later, as this discussion will come up with more theatres in the future.
Wishing all the best on the journey,