March 9, 2007

To bow or not to bow…

Erin Banks           posted 25 Feb 2007, 11:50 PM / edited 26 Feb 2007, 07:34 AM

Curtain calls can be a tricky area.  As (in no particular order…) an actor/ writer/ director/ designer it’s nice to have your work acknowledged, and as an audience member to have the chance to show your appreciation for what you have seen.  But then there is the argument that in certain works a curtain call can detract from the overall impact of the performance.  I was browsing arts reviews on Lumiere and was interested to see that Justin Gregory commented in his review of Hotel that he was disappointed that the cast bowed, arguing that in a work that was so intensely truthful the curtain call “shatter[ed] the world they had created”. Paul McLaughlin, a creator/performer and producer of Hotel, responded to Justin’s review with the following comment:

“Cheers Justin. We too had questioned the curtain call, and one early show we did not do one – but had so much negative feedback from that audience on our failure to do so we re-instated it. It’s a hard thing to call.”

It’s seems this is a more hotly debated area than I had anticipated.  It certainly seems that some subjects and styles of performance feel awkward when followed by a smiling row of actors jogging onstage, which would make one think it would be better to leave the curtain call out altogether in order to preserve the mood. But then as Paul said in his post this choice early on lead to a lot of ‘negative feedback’. Does an audience feel ‘jipped’ if they are left at the end of a performance unable to express how much (or how little) they enjoyed it, and can these negative feelings detract from their enjoyment of the performance? 

I’m interested in how people feel about curtain calls, both as artists and as audiences.  I myself have heard tales of audience members leaving a production of Fold by Jo Randerson with no opportunity to clap, and feeling remarkably hostile as a result (although the lack of a curtain call here is dictated by the script which expressly states there should not be one). However on the contrary many viewers of Blood Guts and Khaki were intensely moved by leaving the theatre without applauding. In both situations there were people who insisted on clapping in the absence of a curtain call, even though in the programme for BGandK they were specifically requested not too.   Is it just habit, or is the curtain call there for audience rather than the actors?

And so to bow or not to bow – that is the question.

John Smythe      posted 26 Feb 2007, 07:45 AM / edited 26 Feb 2007, 07:46 AM

Good question, Erin!

My usual response to no curtain call is that the company is being precious; taking themselves a bit too seriously. Smiling faces and bowing are not compulsory but something that marks the end of make-believe and the return to reality is both useful and healthy.

After all the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality is a pretty good definition of insanity. And all theatre is fantasy, finally, no matter how well it has inspired us to willing suspend our disbelief.

Usually the better a production has been at achieving that, the more their audience wants to acknowledge it.

Paul McLaughlin               posted 26 Feb 2007, 09:41 AM  

I was never a big fan over doing curtain calls, but over the years have calmed down. They serve their purpose in two ways for me; in letting the audience show their appreciation for the work (as most audiences are wont to do), and -more importantly for me now – it’s an opportunity to show our thanks as performers to the audience making the effort to see the work.

Charlotte Larsen               posted 26 Feb 2007, 01:03 PM

Sometimes I like the actors to bow. It shows it has actually ended and is not a scene change (I’ve seen shows where its hard to tell… you sit there for a while in the dark, thinking it’s over, and then theres another scene. And oh my goodness it should have ended half an hour ago!).

I do like to take a minute to think about it before house lights come up, and then I can know that I’ve seen something gripping enough to leave me thinking before “hey, this is the end, but I want you to want more”. And then I can use the facilities, because after an hour and a half or so I’m crossing my legs. Maybe.

Nic Farra              posted 7 Mar 2007, 12:14 PM / edited 7 Mar 2007, 12:54 PM

The only time I have felt insulted by a group of actors was when I was given a perfunctory bow topped off with grim faces. I had really enjoyed the show and I felt like everyone on stage hated doing it and hated us the audience for liking it. Ew.

I am a strong believer in remembering the side of the bread that’s buttered, which means being mindful of who pays us. The audience provides us with the energy to keep going in our mutual suspension of disbelief. They are the ones sitting in the same room with us, willing us to be successful, and our job is to fulfill our part of the contract. We’re there to entertain, to provoke, to ridicule, to dazzle, to terrify and to inspire pity. They have paid money and given time and energy, so not only do they deserve acknowledgement in the form of a bow, they also need the respect of we professionals towards them our livelihood.

Furthermore, before we get carried away with the importance of the emotional impact we are making, I think we should remember it’s not our place to decide that. No one on our side of the lights can predict how anyone will react to any given act on the stage. What one person finds moving, another may find risible, and that’s their business. I don’t like being told what to feel by anyone, and I would never presume to tell anyone else.

The show’s over now. Thank you for coming, we hope you liked it.

Steph Walker     posted 9 Mar 2007, 01:17 AM / edited 9 Mar 2007, 10:23 PM

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about audiences lately, and I came across a theory about the curtain call that, to me, makes so much sense:

The time when an audience gets to applaud the actors may well not be about thanking the actors and vice versa, but it is a bridge from the time where we as audience have suspended out disbelief for however long, to the reality of walking out of the Theatre back in to ‘everyday life’.

Now, I have seen a fair few productions that seek to disturb, and haven’t bowed as a way to keep this going. But perhaps this isn’t the way to go – sure, shock your audiences, but you have a moral obligation to look after them too. Maybe bowing is a way to help your audience with what they have just seen? And of course to show their appreciation…

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