Love-Hate Relationship With Curtain Speeches

Troublemaker that Drew McManus is, he suggested that as people return to live performances post-Covid, arts organizations should re-think the hallowed curtain speech. He argues that patrons won’t have the patience to endure the lengthy speeches after months of ad free Netflix and Disney Plus watching bliss.

He mirrored his post on Facebook where a lot of people had something to say about curtain speeches.  (So if you have a lot to say on the subject, head over.)

I definitely agree that a lot of people do very long, poorly considered curtain speeches at their events. I try to keep my short and entertaining, but occasionally the stars misalign and it stinks and I resolve to get better.

Let me tell you, I have been to a number of organizations in my time where I wonder if they are investing any effort into trying to get better.  If our expectations are that the performers should be working to be at the top of their game, the staff delivering the curtain speeches should be aiming for the same goal.

I know that some places want to have artists, donors and board members speak so that there is better representation and variety in the appeals and some people will be better than others. In those cases, if you can’t guarantee that the speech is well-rehearsed, the time limit should be strictly enforced.

All this being said, what I feel is going to be most important post-Covid is a sense of reassurance and trust. While many in the Facebook discussion advocated for getting rid of curtain speeches, I wrote about the value of getting up and standing in front of people to assure them that the staff of your venue is taking steps to ensure their health and safety, even if you don’t explicitly say that.  (I quoted someone in a post a few weeks ago that cautioned about leaning in too heavily on safety messaging.)

Depending on the dynamics of your community and audience, delivering the curtain speech while wearing a facemask might be necessary to reinforce and model the expectations you have of audience members.

And as much as anyone is reluctant to have patrons getting in their face, literally or figuratively, with complaints, it may prove cathartic for audience members to vocalize their fears. If you have done a credible job keeping things safe and are able to identify what you can do better, then you just need to have a thick skin.

I am sure it won’t be necessary for some time to remind you that whomever showed up for the performance made a number of conscious decisions to do so, (or at least impulse factored into it much less than before). So perhaps the most valuable part of doing curtain speeches will be thanking people for coming out. I suspect it will take very little effort to make the sentiment sound much more heartfelt than it had in the past.

Even if you are convinced by my argument, if you want to vent about bad curtain speech experiences, head over to Drew McManus’ Facebook post and join the conversation.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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