Alex Rybeck on Bows

October 25, 2007
When I was putting together my piece on bows, I asked several people their opinion.  Alex Rybeck was so generous and insightful that I have to share it whole…

 I agree with you that Thank You’s and Bows need to be figured out and practiced.

The order in which people are thanked should be thought out. In most cases, it should be The Venue (perhaps the owner by name) who booked you, followed by the technical crew (lights, sound), followed by the director (if there is one), and then the musicians who share the stage, ending with the Musical Director. The final thank you should ALWAYS be the audience. (The idea is that the Thank You’s are listed in an ascending order of importance).

One pet peeve I have is when artists speak over the applause as they are introducing their band. Let each musician receive their share of applause, THEN say the next name. It’s also nice when the artist gives FOCUS to the musician being introduced.

When I’m onstage, being introduced, I personally like to acknowledge the artist with a nod when my name is mentioned, then I bow to the audience, and then I return the focus to the artist with another nod. This is clean and feels gracious.

As you have observed, there are many possible ways of bowing, and each artist needs to find which one works best for him/her.

Many newcomers feel embarrassed by applause, and they either act phonily humble (with an expression that seems to say, “Oh, is this applause really for ME? You mean you LIKED me?”), or phonily moved to tears (“This is the most incredible moment of my entire life”) , OR they try to bypass the moment altogther, and barely acknowledge the applause, which reads as “I am really uncomfortable and can’t wait to get on with the next song, or to get offstage, but I can’t tolerate accepting your Thank You”). And that’s what a bow is: it is acknowledging the audience’s Thank You. It needn’t be anything more than a simple, heartfelt, honest reaction to those who are thanking you. But just as the audience is giving you its acknowledgement, you must return it. Your subtext while bowing is, “I’m so glad to have shared this time with you, and I accept your thanks”.

This carries through when you Meet And Greet after the show. This is an important part of the gig! You may be signing your CD’s, or simply meeting people.  Either way, you will be facing people who will want to tell you how much they enjoyed your show. It’s important to give each person your full attention, and accept their feedback as graciously as possible (sometimes people will tell you what they DIDN’T like, and then it’s a real challenge to be gracious!). But, like your bow, it’s a chance to acknowledge their having come to see you, and to connect personally with your fans. (And remember that if someone DOES give you criticism, from THEIR standpoint, they are telling you — albeit at an inopportune time and in a possibly inappropriate fashion — that they care enough about you to offer what they feel is good and important advice to improve your presentation.)

One of the best pieces of advice I heard about criticism: if you hear 50 different opinions from 50 people, you can ignore it; but if you hear the same comment from everybody, then it’s valid and should be paid attention to. (For instance, one person may tell you they hated a particular song choice. That’s just one person’s feeling, and you can’t please everyone. But if a majority of your audience is telling you that this particular song doesn’t work, listen to them! This is true of comments about what you’re wearing, or the lighting, or sound, as well as repertoire).

Sometimes, you can’t rely on people to tell you what doesn’t work, because a lot of people will not feel comfortable being that honest. So you have to develop an inner “applause-o-meter” when you finish a song. Just like a comedian builds a set according to which jokes get the biggest laughs, a singer needs to get a feel for which numbers are the showstoppers, which get a polite hand, and which are met with uncomfortable coughs and/or silence! Some singers are defiant in their relationship with the audience, and feel like they should be able to sing whatever they want, damn the audience response. This is a dangerous attitude, and will eventually result in the lack of HAVING an audience!

This is not to say you can’t experiment, and occasionally throw in a number that’s “risky” — but you have to earn the right (ie, the trust of the audience) to do so. By programming something surefire right before and right after, you can sometimes “get away with” a song that may not always go over.

OK — I’ve rambled on way too long!

I’ve strayed way beyond your initial ponderings on bowing! So be it.

Take care,

Take a Bow!

October 21, 2007

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.