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The Curtain Call Criminals

April 19, 2011

Please excuse me while I rant for a moment. I have a serious bone to pick with Broadway audiences.

My friends, WHAT IS UP with the dozens of people who scramble to leave as soon as the first tremors of a Broadway show’s final applause begin? I’d like to have a little chat with those curtain call criminals one of these days. Here’s hoping they’re reading.

I have had the tremendous good fortune of seeing six different Broadway shows in the past month and saw this occur at every one of them, but nowhere was it more upsetting to me than at “Catch Me If You Can,” a three-hour musical spectacle (that I thoroughly enjoyed, for the record), which was so energetic and so demanding, that it seemed to be roughly the equivalent of a triple threat marathon for its many performers.

After watching dozens of singer-actor-dancers perform their hearts out (for did I mention THREE hours?), I was exhausted for them. Which made it all the more upsetting for me to watch seemingly unappreciative audience members who couldn’t even be bothered to reward them for their efforts with two minutes of applause.

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This never happens at a high school play. I never experienced it during my community theatre days either. And it doesn’t even seem to happen at smaller NYC productions like those performed in the many off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway houses that dot the city.

So why Broadway? Is it the tourists who are so eager to catch their LIRR train that they can’t wait an extra two minutes? Is it industry folk who are so jaded that they can’t wait to get home and leave the biz behind for the night? Is it the anonymity of a large Broadway house that makes it seem okay to filter out without feeling “noticed”? Is it the fact that audience members feel more removed from Broadway performers because they don’t know any of the cast members personally and regard them as mini-celebrities who don’t have feelings?

Whatever the reason, it is a fact that the very brief moments that comprise a curtain call are nothing short of magical. Especially on Broadway, a quite literally legendary place that is the benchmark of success for hundreds of thousands of actors around the world, myself included. The actors who come out for that final bow have most likely spent decades of their lives training and sacrificing to hone their art and climb to the top of the heap, and have just spent two plus hours pouring their souls out on stage for the audience’s entertainment.

Curtain call is the time when those actors ask the audience to connect with them and share a tiny piece of their souls in return. Curtain call is the time to thank those actors. Sure, the audience members bought an expensive Broadway ticket to be there, but that money really thanks the Producers and the Designers and the Theater Management and too many other people to count. Yes, it pays the actors’ salaries, but let’s be frank – if actors could figure out a way to eat without getting a paycheck, most of them would do this for free. Your ticket price is also thanking the ushers by paying their salaries, but when they hand you a playbill, don’t you take the time to say a quick “thank you” as well? Why is a curtain call any different?

Obviously this is something that bothers me on a deep level (had you noticed by the novel I’ve written?), but I’d really like to hear how you feel about it: does it bother you when people walk out early on curtain call? Why or why not? And why do you think it happens so much more often in a Broadway house?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2011 11:07 am

    My guess is that it’s tourism-related. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I wonder if it’s people who just aren’t that used to the theatre who are doing this. For some folks, seeing a play is like going to a movie — they are completely separated from the spectacle, and when the story stops, it’s over. That’s a shame, since it disrespects the theatre artists and robs these audience members themselves of a very special experience.

  2. Rebecca permalink
    April 19, 2011 2:29 pm

    Oh, it happens in community theatres, too. Believe me. 😦 I’ve noticed that it seems to be a growing trend within the last few years. I think Peter is right, people seem to equate going to the theatre with going to a movie. The connection between artist and audiences is a two way street, and audiences can choose whether they are going to connect. Unfortunately, a growing number of audience members make the choice to be “consumers” and not make the connection. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Sunny permalink
    April 19, 2011 6:40 pm

    This is my pet peeve! My mom and I have season tickets to the St. Louis Muny and a lot of ppl feel the need to ‘sneak’ out before curtain call some even go as far as leaving during the last scene. It drives me bonkers and the Muny asks patrons not to in every playbill and at the beginning of the season. Ok rant over!

  4. The Restless Dramaturg permalink
    April 19, 2011 8:29 pm

    I am appalled every time I see this occur in any theatre setting. In my opinion, this act of disrespect is representative of how this country feels about artists in general. I have travelled abroad on many occasions and let me tell you, it is very different. For example, in Russia, you will rarely see anyone leave a theatre until at least 5 curtain calls; all of which include raucous applause, chants of “Bravo” and patrons lined up in the aisles to hand flowers to their favorite performers. The audience creates almost as much of a spectacle as the actors! The feeling you get when you are surrounded by a crowd who genuinely appreciates what has just been offered to them is something Spiritual that American audiences are missing out on.

    • April 19, 2011 8:33 pm

      Wow, FIVE curtain calls AND flowers?!? If it weren’t so cold, I’d be considering a move to Russia right about now 😉

  5. estelle permalink
    April 20, 2011 10:14 am

    I actually always think the people who leave early are the ones who see shows most frequently… like it’s nothing. I think tourists really appreciate the fact they are there, and kind of just move when the majority of the crowd decides to leave. It does bother me a lot. I’m not a performer, but I thoroughly appreciate what is going on on stage and entertaining me and know the performers deserve to know that.

    In fact, I saw How to Succeed last week and I was overcome with happiness because the audience was SO happy and SO into the show. The two leads came out afterwards to raise money for Broadway Cares and let me tell you, NO ONE MOVED A MUSCLE. It was pretty remarkable. (They also raised 6000 dollars, not including what they were making outside on signed posters & Playbills.)

    Unfortunately, there are always to be be rude people at these shows. But take it from me, there are so many others who are standing up and freaking out because they just had one of the best theatre experiences ever.

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