A curtain call is a series of bows and applause usually held at the end of a live performance. This allows the audience to give recognition to the performers for their work. Curtain calls can sometimes become encores, where extra material is performed at the request of the audience.
In theater, curtain calls are usually carefully choreographed as part of the rehearsal process. Generally for large shows, these calls are done in order of role size. Ensemble members, dancers and chorus actors will bow first, featured roles will follow, and the stars of the show will bow last. Usually the call is concluded by a company-wide bow, often including recognition to the orchestra or band. In traditional staging, after the company bows, the stage curtain will be lowered and raised again if applause continues. Frequently, in musical theater, the curtain call will feature an extra verse of a song from the show.
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Some theater performances feature only a few performers, called ensemble casts. These plays often feature many roles of similar sizes, and the cast will take their curtain calls together, rather than individual bows. This form of curtain call is meant to honor the bond and shared credit of the entire group.
Although the general rule of bows suggests that shorter is better, amateur or benefit theater will often feature extended curtain calls on the final night of performance. These longer bows may include speeches and individual thank-yous. The director or producers of the event are often invited onstage to share in the final curtain call, and sometimes presented with gifts from the cast.
Musical performances generally feature bows by the performers and conductors. If an audience is particularly responsive, the musicians may choose to perform an encore number or set. Encore pieces are generally either a favorite work of the performer, a cover of another artist’s work, or an experimental and sometimes unfinished work. An encore is the artist’s gift to the audience, to thank them for their applause and support.
In sports, curtain calls may be taken after a particularly impressive play. Football players’ end zone dances after touchdowns are considered a form of curtain call. After a home run in baseball, a player may acknowledge the crowd by returning to the field and waving or raising his hat. If a game ends well, the entire team may come out for a bow.
Some films include a curtain call by inserting brief shots of the actors in character during the ending credits. Filmmakers Mel Brooks and Kevin Smith are both noted for including this technique. At the end of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, portraits of each actor were made by designer Alan Lee and shown during the credits.
The curtain call in live performance is an expression of mutual gratitude between the artist and the audience. Some performers claim to experience “curtain call highs,” where the excitement of the performance being well received gives them a boost of energy. Although some artists claim to live for applause, the bows are truly a chance for the performer to thank the audience for participating and supporting them. In return, the audience has an opportunity to express their enjoyment for the work the performers have put in.