Curtain Calls

The curtain call presents some interesting questions. Should you be there as your everyday self, or in your professional identity, or still in character? Should it be, "Ah shucks, I'm really only a human being, just like you." Or should it be executed with panache and choreography? Is it the time to end artifice, or an opportunity to tie the final knot on the evening?

Back in the sixties and seventies, actors often refused to take a curtain call. "Who are you to judge us? We are not your servants," we used to think, "Why should we humble ourselves before you?" Perhaps we had read too much Grotowski! I must say it didn't feel great to be standing there backstage while the audience clapped themselves into a confused silence. We certainly didn't feel like the actor-saints we thought we were. Rather more like criminals refusing to take responsibility for an illegal act.

One day Pablo Vela put it into perspective for me. "The audience want to express themselves. They want to give something back in gratitude. They just want to say thankyou!"

Pablo, by the way, also told me a story about the great American Broadway actress, Helen Hayes. He was in the audience of one of her performances. At the end of an extended curtain call she obviously misjudged the timing of her exit through the closing curtains. The audience was horrified. She was about to be trapped out there on the apron. But then, at the last second, and to the complete delight of all, she succeeded in negotiating an elegant, gently ironic exit through the sweep of the attacking curtains. A week later Pablo went to see a second performance of the same play. At the final curtain Miss Hayes made exactly the same "mistake." Showbiz.

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Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010