In Praise of Curtain Calls

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One of my pet peeves recently is the increasing trend to end a performance without a curtain call. Having heard the intellectual rationales of many theatre folks concerning this issue, I remain unconvinced that having a curtain call end a performance is simply a “quaint convention” whose time has passed.

Yes, the show ending with a curtain call is an odd moment in many ways. After spending several hours pretending the audience weren’t there, the smiling cast comes forward to acknowledge their presence and receive the accolades of an appreciative audience. Collectively, we praise the cast as actors appear in a weird theatrical limbo between their characters’ lives on stage and their lives in the real world.

Curtain calls undoubtedly developed in the audience’s desire to directly acknowledge their appreciation of the performances they have just witnessed. Audiences demanded the opportunity to publicly praise the cast’s efforts.

But, today, is an audience’s demand based on a real spontaneous reaction to the performances…or is it simply a centuries old convention to thank the actors for their work on stage over the last several hours? It appears to me to be more than just this either/or choice.

The moment of acknowledgement between actor and audience, the curtain call, is an important part of the live experience too! The curtain call is not just a moment at which we can all see one another; but, it is one in which we might actually begin to recognize each other—and our roles in the entire artistic event we have just witnessed. It is time to look again to look at the manners and meanings of the curtain call beyond the habits which we unthinkingly obey! Curtain calls are important and should not be dismissed unthinkingly obey! Curtain calls are important and should not be dismissed as mere fashion.

Steve Kantor