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Why I Love Binge-Watching Theatre

Date: Feb 03, 2020


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Attending marathon or multipart shows is a challenge I embrace


Water bottle? Check! Lozenges I'll unwrap before the curtain goes up? Yup. A change of clothes? That last one might seem like a strange thing to pack for an evening at the theatre, but as I learned a few years ago at Forced Entertainment's And on the Thousandth Night (which began at midnight and ended at 6 a.m. so audiences could watch the sun rise on their way home), sometimes you need a fresh shirt—especially if you've been at a production for most of the night.

A modern adaptation of Arabian Nights, the show was essentially nonstop bedtime stories. Somewhere around the fourth hour, I looked around and saw that my fellow audience members were as enraptured as I. That's when it hit me: We were binge-watching theatre the way others do TV series.

While I enjoy binge-watching from the comfort of my couch, too, I find that marathon theatre provides an even greater rush, as I get to share the experience of instant dramatic gratification with a bunch of equally engrossed strangers.

I actually think a lot of TV showrunners have taken some cues from lengthy theatrical classics, such as Long Day's Journey Into Night. At the most recent Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's play, I was struck by its meticulous timing, nail-biting cliff-hangers and intermissions that felt very much like commercial breaks. (It's telling that when director Sidney Lumet adapted it into a 1962 film, he shot it like a television drama of that era.)

Broadway currently has a pair of two-part plays: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (about five hours) and The Inheritance (clocking in at seven or so). At the former, I found myself sitting next to a Potterhead, which was immensely helpful since I can't tell a Ravenclaw from a Hufflepuff. During intermission, she enlightened me with knowledge and trivia; much to my good fortune, she was my seatmate for the second part, too. At The Inheritance, a big, gay soap opera, I noticed that many of my fellow theatregoers changed from super-casual to theatre-light wear when they showed up for the evening portion, which seemed to shift the vibe of the room. 

Of course, binge-watching theatre comes with technological disadvantages. You can't rewind the action, screenshot a moment for a meme, or pause if you need a snack or bathroom break. But that makes the experience even more intense and all-consuming.

It also inspires real-life interactions with its palpable sense of "we're all in this together." Sitting there for all those hours, you get comfortable with each other. Sometimes it's just an OMG glance or a shared laugh; other times, it's a collective uninhibited cry. (The Inheritance had a lot of those.) And you're much more likely to strike up a conversation with your neighbor at intermission because you've been through so much.

I had an almost spiritual experience at Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which I saw in six four-hour stints. Every time I went, I inevitably bonded with my seatmates, as we all communed and shared our presence and our joy and our emotions and, occasionally, our BO. (That's why when bingeing, I bring deodorant and a toothbrush with me!)

So whenever someone says I'm crazy for heading to a six-hour-plus production, or one where I'm required to stay overnight, I explain that I just can't get the same bingeing buzz at home. In fact, I'm actually binge-watching the old-fashioned way—à la early humans, who listened to tales around a campfire enthralled.


Jose Solís is a NY-based writer and editor who's been covering theatre and film professionally since 2003. He is a member of the Drama Desk. Follow him at @josesolismayen. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Taylor Mac in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music surrounded by the audience. Photo by Jim Norrena.

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