Required Reading. As an avid fan of live theatre and dance and music, and as someone who used to perform in front of people relatively regularly, I have a more than a few thoughts on the various end of show rituals. Clapping is weird when you really start to think about it. Standing ovations should be reserved for really spectacular performances. And bows should be kept to a minimum. They are important for both audiences and performers. Like a mutual exchange of thanks. The audience thanks the performers for their work and the performers thank the audiences for the chance to share their performance. However, curtain calls that last forever and ever make me antsy regardless of which side of the equation I am on. How to actually execute the bow is a whole other question, so this article from The New York Times is particularly interesting to me: in essence, there are as many bows as there are performers. And bowing can be awkward no matter how experienced you are. Check out “The Curtain Call: Dip, Kiss or Curtsy?”
Gabriel Byrne was 8 years old the first time he saw a play. He was awe-struck by what happened at the end — “when the people I believed had been real showed themselves to not be real,” he recalled.
“What they were doing was shrugging off unreality and becoming real by way of their bows,” he continued. “And the difference between their faces during the performance and their faces during the bows fascinated me. Since then I’ve always watched the way people bow.”
For loyal theater audiences — as well as Tony Award nominees like Mr. Byrne, starring in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — there’s a lot to watch, from the solo bow taken by leading performers to the group bow emphasizing the ensemble nature of the enterprise. (Among this year’s Tony-nominated shows, see: “Hamilton,” “Shuffle Along,” “The Crucible.”)
Solo variations include the head bow — the kind favored by Mr. Byrne who, frankly, would prefer to skip the whole thing; and the bend from the waist so that the body forms a right angle (think human tabletop). For both, hands are laced, pressed together prayerfully, pressed to the heart or perhaps extended to the audience. And then there is the deep curtsy, as if greeting royalty rather than a subscription audience.
There’s the aerobic bow, wherein an actor dashes out from the wings and bends, head almost touching the stage; the weary bow (Message: You folks are lucky I’m still standing); and the artfully startled, carefully unstudied bow, the one that seems to say: “Oh my God, is this applause for me? I’ve been so transfixed by my performance I didn’t realize there was anyone else here.”
The bow to beat, according to many Broadway veterans? Yul Brynner’s at the end of “The King and I.” His Majesty would thrust his arms to the heavens like an excited referee signaling the winning touchdown, pause, look around and take in the applause. Then, and only then, would he begin to bend, the downward swoop stopped only by the floor.