A cabaret act I saw recently started me to thinking about bows. Up to the point of bow, the diva in question had truly been FABULOUS – really working with all cylinders firing. Then came the bow. Now don’t get me wrong, she did everything correctly. She acknowledged the applause, she didn’t feign false modesty, she even blew a kiss before bowing from the waist.
But somehow it didn’t seem enough. Simply because it wasn’t as FABULOUS as what preceded it. At that point, she really could have gotten away with much more. She probably could have worked three sides of the stage (the room was just big enough). She could have curtseyed (which may be generally advisable given this particular diva’s tendency toward décolleté).
This incident made me realize that the bow is really the last chance a performer has to make an impression on the audience. And in solo work, it’s especially important. Because when you’re part of a larger company, unless you have the last bow, your job is to be grateful, but quick. And even when you have the last bow, there are issues — The great actress Fran Dorn said that one of her qualms about playing Shakespearean heroines was going out for her bow after 30 other people.
In talking to various performers, especially those working below the topmost tier, there is a discomfort I’ve discovered about bows and applause. And I think that that stems from a “modesty” that has been instilled in most of us. We’re told we’re not supposed to obviously enjoy praise.
However, as we all know, applause is for the audience, not for the performer. It gives the audience the chance to participate, the chance to express opinions, the chance for release, and the chance to regroup. And a lesson I’ve taken to heart on the issue, inculcated from some top performers, is that cheating the audience is not “modesty;” it’s arrogance. It means that your emotional baggage as a performer is not letting the audience do their job. It tells the audience that their reactions aren’t appreciated. Worse, it tells the audience that you don’t respect their judgment.
But as a solo performer*, the bow is an opportunity not to be missed. Not only do you get to bask in the audience’s thanks (hopefully), but you can really cement your persona as a performer. Moreover, a REALLY effective curtain call can have the effect of leaving such a strong final impression that it makes people think your show was better than it was. The best example of this is Mamma Mia. The “concert” during the curtain call gets people up, clapping and dancing in the aisle. And that’s the most lasting impression you have of the show, which is highly problematic in spots.
So, do you have a bow that cements your persona? Do you have a recognizable “signature” – like the arm-to-the-side bow that Kay Thompson gave Judy Garland? It is telling that the diva who started this whole train of thought did not work with a stage director. So there was no “outside eye.” Maybe it’s worth it to book a session with a choreographer who can bring some ideas to the table. Make your bow a part of your performance that you look forward to sharing with your audience.
And that way, instead of TAKING a bow, you’ll be GIVING it!
*Okay, not alone. There’s also the music director and any side players.