Have I gone on too long?
I wanted to follow Wednesday’s post about the 90-4-Whatever Rule with a second post about time. It was a lesson I had to learn on the job and it was a hard one to learn: Finish When You Are Supposed To. If you’ve been asked to do 45 minutes do 45 minutes. If you’ve been asked to do 4. Do 4. No more, no less.
This is the professional thing to do. It doesn’t matter how big or small the gig is. How formal or casual. Do the time you were asked to. If you do less time than you were asked you are short changing whoever booked you and probably the audience too. Unfortunately the opposite isn’t true. A lot of performers think that if they do MORE time then they are giving their clients and the audience MORE value but that just isn’t true. You are simply failing to do what you were hired to do.
The consequences for going over/under vary from gig to gig. In the cruise ship market you are unlikely to get re-hired if you continually go over/under. The cruise is on a tight schedule and more times than not they need to clear, sanitize, and reset the theater for a game of passenger “Love & Marriage Game Show” where the theme is “How Many Jokes Can A Cruise Director Steal?”. Every minute you go over is a minute they are stressing out. That’s not so nice to do.
In a ensemble show going over/under your time affects the timing of the rest of the show. An entire cast of other artists not to mention stage hands and other house staff are expecting you to do your time. When you don’t you are making everyone else’s job more difficult. The handstand artist is timing his warm-up based on your act being 10 minutes long. You do 8 and now he is two minutes behind on his warm-up. Or you’re working a dinner theater and do two shows a day. You go 5 minutes longer because you were just killing but then there isn’t enough time to clear all the tables before the next show and the second show gets delayed. That’s on you.
Fortunately there are many ways to avoid this. Cue the info-video music.
This is the most common way for other disciplines to be consistent with their time. You end when the music ends. It’s the same every night. This is also the least usefull method for comedy jugglers. It is however a great method for those who talk while juggling and many of them employ this technique.
You can open with a few jokes. Cue the music and perform a juggling routine. End to the music with a big trick. Take a bow and exit. It’s a pretty clean and effortless way to make sure you never go over/under. You probably even have time after the music to make another joke or two before exiting without fear of the clock.
They come in many forms these days: wall, wrist, phone, or a good old-fashioned sun dial. This way allows you to forgo the music and perform with a little more freedom. I know performers who will place their phone on a stool or prop stand on stage (also handy for recording every show but you’re probably already doing that…right?). I’ve also seen performers stick a phone or tablet on the floor in front of a monitor on stage. The audience can’t see it but it’s always right in front of you. And of course you can wear a watch.
A few words of caution:
Make sure whatever time telling device you use is set to the VENUE’S time. The stage manager doesn’t care if your watch flies itself to the Equator every year to sync up with the Earth’s rotation. If their watch says it’s “Show Time” it’s “Show Time”. I never thought about that until one contract where I ended up going super UNDER my time. I was on stage, looked at my watch and it read 9:40. I knew that the show started at 9:00 and I was asked to do a tight 45. I switched my finale from the Whatever It Needs To Be length to the snappy 4 minute version, bowed and ran off stage. I was greeted by a screaming stage manager. It turns out my watch was 15 minutes faster than the venues clock. I didn’t check it before the show and so I had no idea. I felt like garbage for the rest of the evening.
Also make sure you find times in your routine to discreetly check the time. When the audience can see you checking your watch or phone it makes you look both unprofessional and bored. Not a good look for the professional comedy juggler. Do the work of going through the act or show and look for places you can steal a glance at the time without giving it away. Therapists do this too. Most will position a clock on the wall BEHIND their patients so they can look at the clock while appearing to be listening. Those tricky shrinks!
You can and should do the same. If it’s good enough for the heavy work of a therapist it’s good enough for our work which is so light.
In the world of Stand-up Comedy this is the norm: You are 5 minutes from the end of your set and the sound tech or manager gives you a little flash of light. You know to wrap it up. If you go over, they’ll usually let you finish your joke and then send you a couple of flashes. If you keep going you’ll be brought off stage by the MC and then usually the next time you’re there it will be in the audience.
This is the simple way to stay on time. Then it’s the venue’s decision when you’re done. If you don’t get the light you don’t wrap it up. Maybe they need you to stretch a bit. Maybe the Toronto Blue Jays are in extra innings to secure a spot in the World Series and the stage manager is from Toronto and he NEEDS to see those last couple pitches (true story).
Unfortunately The Light is the hardest method for a juggler to use. Chances are high that you’ll be juggling 5 minutes from the end of the act or show and maybe you don’t see it. That’s sucky. However, if you can learn to use The Light you will have a more comfortable time performing in comedy clubs and similar venues. Practice any chance you can get. It’s a skill worth having. It will not only force you to be more present with the show but it also removes the responsibility to do your exact time.
Do the time you’ve been asked to do. No more. No less.
Find a method for monitoring the time that works for you: a watch, smart device, or a flash of light from the back of the house.
Practice ways of checking the time without being noticed.