An intermission (American English) or interval (British English) is a recess between parts of a performance or production, such as for a theatrical play, opera, concert, or film screening. It should not be confused with an entr'acte (French: "between acts"), which, in the 18th century, was a sung, danced, spoken, or musical performance that occurs between any two acts, that is unrelated to the main performance, and that thus in the world of opera and musical theatre became an orchestral performance that spans an intermission and leads, without a break, into the next act.
Jean-François Marmontel and Denis Diderot both viewed the intermission as a period in which the action did not in fact stop, but continued off-stage. "The interval is a rest for the spectators; not for the action.", wrote Marmontel in 1763. "The characters are deemed to continue acting during the interval from one act to another." However, intermissions are more than just dramatic pauses that are parts of the shape of a dramatic structure. They also exist for more mundane reasons, such as that it is hard for audience members to concentrate for more than two hours at a stretch, and actors and performers (for live action performances at any rate) need to rest. They afford opportunity for scene and costume changes. Performance venues take advantage of them to sell food and drink.
The term "Broadway Bladder" names "the alleged need of a Broadway audience to urinate every 75 minutes". Broadway Bladder, and other considerations (such as how much revenue a theatre would lose at its bar if there were no intermissions), govern the placement of intermissions within performances, and their existence in performances, such as plays, that were not written/created with intermissions in mind.
The plays of William Shakespeare were originally intended for theatre performance without intermissions. The placement of intermissions within those plays in modern performances is thus a matter for the play's director. Reviewer Peter Holland analysed the placement of intermissions in 1997:
- Of The Winter's Tale he noted that there was "as natural a break as anyone could wish for" before the speech of Time as Chorus, and that he had never seen a production that placed an intermission other than at that point.
- Trevor Nunn's Measure for Measure in 1991 he gave as an example of intermissions placed in the middle of a scene. It stopped halfway through act 3 scene 1, moving some of the lines from later in the scene to before the intermission.
- Performances of King Lear, he observed, often place the intermission "disproportionately late", after the blinding of Gloucester.
- The 1991 RSC production of Julius Caesar directed by Stephen Pimlott he pointed out as noteworthy for its extraordinary intermission length. Pimlott had placed the intermission after act 4 scene 1, after the action leaves Rome. This allowed the striking of the scenery. But it took sometimes as much as forty minutes for stage crew to remove the scenery, which comprised a "massive set of columns and a doorway" designed by Tobias Hoheisel, a period that was longer than the remaining length of the performance, some thirty-five minutes.
Many modern productions of Shakespeare plays have thus eschewed the introduction of an intermission, choosing instead to perform them all of the way through non-stop, as originally intended. Such productions include Peter Hall's 1988 The Tempest; the 1987, 1995, 2001 and 2012 RSC productions of Julius Caesar; the 1988 (RSC), 1992 (RNT), 1999–2000 (RSC), and 2001 (Globe) productions of Macbeth; and the 2001 PRC production of All's Well That Ends Well.
The intermissions in Kabuki theatre can last up to an hour. Because this often results in people returning to their seats several minutes after the performance has resumed, playwrights generally take to writing "filler" scenes for the starts of acts, containing characters and dialogue that are not important to the overall story.
Intermissions in early films had a practical purpose: they were needed to facilitate the changing of reels. When Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (Queen Elizabeth), starring Sarah Bernhardt, opened on July 12, 1912, in the Lyceum Theatre in New York City, the four reel film was shown in four acts, with an intermission between each reel change.
The technology improved, but as movies became progressively longer, the intermission fulfilled other needs. It gave the audience a breather, and provided the theatre management an opportunity to entice patrons to its profitable concession stand. A 1957 animated musical snipe suggested, before the main feature in theatres and during intermission at drive-ins, "let's all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat".
The built-in intermission has been phased out of Hollywood films, the victim of the demand to pack in more screenings, advances in projector technology which make reel switches either unnoticeable or non-existent (such as digital projection, where reels also no longer exist) and also because in multiplexes, the break gave patrons a better opportunity to sneak away to watch other pictures. The last major mainstream film to feature one was 1984's Once Upon a Time in America.
Other notable films with intermissions include:
- The Birth of a Nation (1915)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Fantasia (1940)
- House of Wax (1953)
- Seven Samurai (1954)
- Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
- Ben-Hur (1959)
- Spartacus (1960)
- King of Kings (1961)
- West Side Story (1961)
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- Cleopatra (1963)
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Doctor Zhivago (1965)
- Help! (1965) (This is a joke intermission lasting about four seconds)
- The Sound of Music (1965)
- Grand Prix (1966)
- The Happiest Millionaire (1967)
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
- The Godfather (1972)
- The Cowboys (1972)
- Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
- The Godfather: Part II (1974)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) (as in Help!, this is a short joke intermission)
- Barry Lyndon (1975)
- Reds (1981)
- Gandhi (1982)
- Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
- Dances With Wolves (1990)
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (1997)
Despite the phasing out of intermissions in the West, they have remained prevalent in India, and especially with Bollywood films. There seems to be a mass reluctance to do away with intermissions as they bring a large revenue to cinemas through customers buying snacks during these periods. It seems to work well in Indian cinema, with the usually longer length of Bollywood films compared with films from other parts of the world. Notably, only in 2011, a Bollywood film, Dhobi Ghat, was released without an intermission, this being cited as a first in Indian cinema. It is not uncommon in India even for Hollywood films to have intermissions.
- Charlton 1986, p. 128.
- Pavis & Shantz 1998, p. 187.
- Andrews 2011, p. 59.
- Goodridge 1999, p. 85.
- Holland 1997, p. 3.
- Dessen 2002, p. 95.
- Holland 1997, p. 4.
- Brandon 1992, p. 29.
- "History: Intermission". Cliftex: Texas' Oldest, Continuously Operating Movie Theatre. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- "The Roadshow Era". Cinema Sightlines. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- Peter Hartlaub (December 19, 2003). "Longer movies, bigger drinks and no intermissions equal a new kind of epic struggle in the theater: one bowl to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Sharma. "Do we need the intermission?". THE TIMES OF INDIA. Retrieved 09/08/2012.
- Steph. "Intermission". Retrieved 09/08/2012.
- "Free Movies UK". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- Blase. "Music paste up: MIA and terrifying things to do with cars, Clean Bandit provide some local sauce, and the dance film season is upon us". Retrieved 09/08/2012.
- Andrews, Richard (2011). Re-Framing Literacy: Teaching and Learning in English and the Language Arts. Language, Culture, and Teaching 6. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415995528.
- Brandon, James R., ed. (1992). Kabuki: Five Classic Plays. UNESCO collection of representative works. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824814267.
- Charlton, David (1986). Grétry and the Growth of Opéra-comique. Cambridge opera handbooks. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521251297.
- Dessen, Alan C. (2002). Rescripting Shakespeare: The Text, the Director, and Modern Productions. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521007986.
- Goodridge, Janet (1999). Rhythm and Timing of Movement in Performance: Drama, Dance and Ceremony. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 9781853025488.
- Holland, Peter (1997). English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage in the 1990s. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521564762.
- Pavis, Patrice; Shantz, Christine (1998). "INTERMISSION". Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802081636.