Don't bail yet!
I read a great article, "Six Chairs in Search of an Audience", about writer Tim Parks's experience at a, shall I say, challenging experimental version of Six Characters in Search of an Author (which is already a little experimental itself, based on my experience with doing the play in college), and the cost of leaving such an event early.
He very wisely described it as totally different than abandoning any other type of entertainment, which got me to thinking about the things I've bailed on:
If can't stand the book you're reading, you can toss it to the side -- the author won't know, and you're not bothering anyone.
If you hate a movie, you can leave whenever you want, as long as you're willing to endure the frustrated sighs of people who have to wriggle out of your way if you've chosen a center seat. There's no effect on the people up on the screen, as their work was done long ago, whether you as an audience member like it or not.
If you're over it with the television show you're watching, you can shut it off, and no one's the wiser. (Unless you're really cranky about it and tweet some critique with the hope that the creators will take your opinion into account.)
But a play is different, and I think sometimes people forget that, as audience members, we're not on television up there. It's happening real time, and we can hear you and see you as much as you can hear and see us. Which means that if you leave, everyone around you knows, and so do we.
Now, of course this article made me think immediately of The Big Meal. We've had some folks walk out, although I do think sometimes it's because they are overwhelmed emotionally and not just because they're ready to yell at the box office for a refund.
I realize, though, that the play has the potential for walkouts because it's structured very differently than most plays. Also because sometimes you can't hear what everyone is saying, which seems important in a play. Personally, it made me as an audience member feel like I didn't know what the hell was happening for a portion of the time, which was frustrating. It's jarring, and some folks might be compelled to get out of Dodge.
However, this is where the live aspect comes into action. It's peer pressure! It functions as peer pressure that forces you to take the time to suspend that ol' disbelief, be patient, and realize that it's all going to make sense soon. Or, at least, make enough sense that you'll be moved in some significant way by the time you get to the end.
The measure of quality sometimes just can't be boiled down to a question of whether or not everything made sense. Sometimes things don't make sense, you know? Life is like that. Plays can be like that, too.
Theatre, man; there's nothing like it!
In the end, Mr. Parks left the play he was watching. I'm not sure I blame him -- sometimes you have to make that call. But he did give it 40 minutes before hitting the door! Read his article -- it's a gem.