Power of the Pause in Annie Baker's The Flick Inspires a Letter From Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director

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26 Mar 2013

Louisa Krause in <i>The Flick.</i>
Louisa Krause in The Flick.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Playwrights Horizons artistic director Tim Sanford took the unusual step of emailing subscribers about a criticism some of them have expressed concerning the current world-premiere production of Annie Baker's The Flick.

The letter, sent by email on March 23, has been made public by recipients, and has also appeared in published reports. A spokesman for the not-for-profit Off-Broadway company said that the letter was sent to "subscribers who had either already seen the show or who hadn't yet booked tickets," but not to subscribers who have booked future dates.

The letter was prompted by concerns expressed by subscribers, theatregoers and some drama critics that the play was simply too long for its own good. Filled with pauses and wordless actions that convey the humdrum, workaday, numbing business of being stuck in a crappy job and finding no hope or order outside of the workplace, The Flick runs three hours long.

Directed by Sam Gold, the play's pauses and actions and beats are largely all scripted, just as they were IN Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation, which was also directed by Gold, for an extended, acclaimed run at PH in 2009-10

The play is set in 2012 in a "falling-apart" single-screen movie house called The Flick, in Worcester, MA, just before it's to be converted from film projection to digital technology. The play opens with light from a film projector aimed at the PH crowd (serving as the screen, essentially) as a soundtrack plays, indicating the rolling credits of a movie. The lights come up after several minutes to reveal the auditorium of The Flick. The length of that opening sequence, as well as pauses between scenes, and ritual workplace action (mopping, sweeping, etc.) add up to a feeling of length that might not be evident on the page (the script runs 126 typewritten pages). Two minutes of stage time can feel like an eternity to some, however. But Baker has made it clear here that she finds power in the pauses. And Sanford is standing by his writer. Playwrights Horizons is, after all, a place for writers to do their thing.

The script, made available to press (as scripts usually are), indicates Baker's passion for pauses. Here's the opening stage directions:

After the theatre audience has filed in, the house lights slowly dim (onstage in the movie audience and also in the theater audience). Bernard Herrmann's intro sequence to 'The Naked and the Dead' starts playing, and the light from the projector beams out over our heads. Images that we cannot decipher are being projected. Dust motes are illuminated by the light. This lasts 2 minutes (from beginning to end of the song) and all we can see are abstracted dancing images shooting out of the film projector. Then the song ends, and the unknown movie ends, and there is a bright flash of green, and then white, and then the sound of the film reaching the end of its spool in the projector. The movie theatre lights automatically flicker on, and after about 5 seconds…"

Other stage directions throughout the play include: "Avery nods. They go back to sweeping. After about twenty seconds" and "About ten more seconds, then Avery finishes sweeping" and "A happy pause in which they realize they've broken the tension, and then awkward pause following that happy pause" and "A minute later" and "This goes on for about twenty seconds" and "A very long, uncomfortable pause," and on and on.


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