curtain time!

Broadway is experimenting with earlier showtimes, meaning 7 rather than 8. The change might catch on and become general.

Personally, I think 7 o'clock curtains are great! Lunch is normally between 2 and 3 for us, and I couldn't possibly eat dinner at 6. But under any circumstances whatsoever I wouldn't want to sit through an evening of theatre on a full stomach, even if the choice were 6 or never. Of course for us the choice is never never.

But you don't really think this piece is just going to be about curtain times, do you?

Years ago performances, whether theatre or concert, normally began at 8:30, even 8:45, making possible real pre-theatre dinners, rather than exercises in expensive fast food. Also years ago, ordinary New Yorkers enjoyed going out after their entertainment, whether it was for dinner or drinks. How do you share the impact of the music or theatre if you can't talk about it after?

So what happened? The NYTimes article doesn't begin to tell us. Once upon a time the people who worked in the City lived in the City, but beginning after the Second World War the middle class, which still feeds Broadway and Lincoln Center, opted for the suburbs. Their rapidly increasing numbers made the morning commute more and more dificult and, lacking the imagination as a class for anything better, their solution was earlier and earlier drives to the office. Real nightlife all but disappeared, except for the creative diversions of the Bohemians who never left and the youth who continually reinvent it.

I moved to New York in 1985 and was absolutely shocked to discover that my bosses, who rose in New Jersey and Long Island as early as 4:30, insisted that everyone had to be at the desk at dawn, regardless of their living arrangements. Of course these same dedicated industry servants generally slipped out of their offices sometime after 3 and fled home to 5 o'clock dinners. Until I actually showed up here for good, my New York was the New York of history and fiction (but also the New York of my New York friends, one which still persisted in their really-not-so-rarified, in Gotham, environments: fashion, publishing and the arts). No one was at work before 10, and just getting in sometime before lunch might be acceptable, but clearly the insurance industry was not one of these creative holdouts.

Years ago the work day ended in the late afternoon (or usually in the early evening for the elves toiling in culture), just in time for a drink and the scoot to a darkened auditorium. Afterward there was dinner, maybe dinner and dancing, maybe something else, but turning in early was just about out of the question--and I'm talking about working people, of all ages, not just club kids.

Some people are welcoming the 7 o'clock curtain for reasons very unlike my own. The suburban model encourages neither culture nor joy.

"When you have to go to work by 8 o'clock on Wednesday morning, you don't want to be out until 3 o'clock in the morning the night before," said Mr. Stavrides, an assistant district attorney in Queens, who saw "Urinetown" with his wife, Nicole, also a lawyer. "Not only that, we're commuting. It's not like we can jump in a cab and be home in 10 minutes. We've got a 50-minute subway ride home if the express isn't running."

Mr. Stavrides is the kind of theatergoer Broadway producers hoped to reach when they decided to raise the curtain an hour earlier than usual one night a week, on Tuesdays, for more than 20 shows.

They figured that the theater crowd no longer keeps hours that are Runyonesque, or even Conanesque; midnight is late for an audience that has a boss, a paycheck and a W-2. Mr. Stavrides, after looking at his seat mates in Henry Miller's Theater, said that an audience that can afford ticket prices of at least $80 a seat probably has all three.

And the suburbs certainly don't encourage dining.
The New York Philharmonic, which in the 1950's began concerts as late as 8:45, switched its Monday-through-Thursday curtain time to 7:30 this season. (Friday and Saturday concerts still begin at 8, as they have since the 1979-80 season.) Brasserie, on East 53rd Street, was once a 24/7 place but now closes at 1 a.m. The restaurant Around the Clock, on Third Avenue at East Ninth Street, is no longer open around the clock, either. It closes at 3 a.m. four nights a week.

"If you read E. B. White's essays, he makes the observation about how appalling it is that people have started to go to lunch at 12:30 in the afternoon," said Jed Bernstein, the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers. "Going to lunch at 1, which he was used to, made sense because they didn't get to the office till 10, and in those days, theater started at 8:30.

What was the best part about the 7 o'clock curtain for the show Mr. Stavrides attended on a recent tuesday?
"The show was mediocre," he declared. "At least I got to bed on time."
Well, he wasn't the one who established the court's work hours, and besides, he did go to the theatre, and he didn't drive.

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Published on February 18, 2003 6:31 PM.

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