Another way the Age of Attention Deficit may affect what we do.

Yesterday, we talked about how the shorter attention spans of our audience may have an effect on the type of theater that is created.

But there’s another, less obvious effect that our next generation’s need for more stimuli may have on what we do.

And that is . . .

Will there be anyone that wants to do it?

Actors in the theater have one of the most challenging jobs in the arts.  Not only do they have to create their art live in front of an audience (imagine if a painter or novelist had to create their work with 1,000 people watching), they also have to do it up to eight times a week.

And it has to be the same (or close to) every single night.  They can’t deviate too much from where they were directed, not only for artistic reasons, but also out of respect for their other actors on stage, and also for safety.  In a big musical, you best not be a couple of paces off your mark or you may just be wearing a giant piece of scenery as a headdress.

Acting is an artistic assembly line gig.  (Listen to Broadway star Steven Pasquale talk about that in his podcast here.)

So . . . if we know that the next set of actors coming up through the ranks may have even less of an attention span than the pesky whipper-snapper set . . . will those actors even want to work in the theater, which requires them to do the exact same thing, night after night?  And if they do choose to act in the theater, will they want to jump ship from show to show more quickly than they are now?

We already know that the pesky whipper-snappers are job-jumpers, with a Gallup Poll indicating that they are three times more likely to leave a gig than non-pesky whipper-snappers.  And I believe we’re already seeing the beginning of this low attention span phenomenon affecting the desire to show up for your gig with the rise in absenteeism on Broadway (not to mention the rise in absenteeism in all employment).

Does this mean that we’re going to lose our workforce?

No, of course not.  But this could shrink it for sure.  In film and TV, you only have to do a scene once  (give or take a “take” or two) and then you get to move onto the next and never go back and do it over.  And then, a couple months later, you can move onto a different film.  Oh, and it pays more.  So if you’re wired with a shorter attention span, which one would you prefer?

We’re going to have a harder time getting people to want to act on our stages in twenty years, and it’s going to be harder to keep them on those stages.

As Producers, it’s going to be our responsibility to come up with ways to make what they do even more attractive, in order to guarantee that our audiences are seeing the best actors on the planet.


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  • Frank says:

    Because of the money of Film and TV this has already happened I’m afraid. Sure, it may get worse.

  • Carvanpool says:

    Didn’t have the patience to read these last two postings.

  • Kile Ozier says:

    I think people are far too quick to cite “short attention span” as the problem they seem to want it to be. In my experience, the audience will absolutely stick around and pay attention — indeed, be riveted — to a well-told story, irrespective of how long it is or how long is each scene. “Les Miz” practically flies through its running time; audiences remained in their seats for nearly three hours for the “LOTR” trilogy films. If a story is compellingly written and told, the audience will stay.

    What HAS changed is at the front end. As crafters of story, we have a very short window to engage the audience: it is up front that the shortness of attention manifests. It is up to us to grab’ em and keep ’em.

    IMHO, the real danger is in addressing the perceived “short attention span” by shortchanging the lushness and depth that is possible in compelling story performance / telling. That is what will send the audience away early and dissatisfied…I’m sayin’…


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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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