Long curtain speeches irk theater-goers

April 28, 2013 

You're in lobby of the theater, and it's getting on eight o'clock. You've had tickets to tonight's show for weeks and it's one you've been looking forward to for years, since it was off-Broadway and received great reviews.

A bell rings. The show is starting. Time to take your seats. You finish your wine, abruptly end your conversation and head inside.

You get a little tingly. The actors will be on stage any second.

Oh, wait. First someone comes out and thanks you for coming. He tells you in detail about all the rest of the shows coming to the theater this season. Oh, and guess what? The lineup for next season has just been announced. The details are in your program, he says, but then he tells you about every single show in that season anyway. And then he reminds you that ticket sales don't cover all of the theater's costs and they'd appreciate donations. Oh, and there in the third row, there's some guy who donated money, let's ask him to stand, please, so we can give him a round of applause.

It's almost 8:15, you've been in your seat a quarter-hour and there's no sign of a play.

I've been annoyed by overlong curtain speeches for decades. But most companies have kept theirs short, and just a few have gone overboard.

Lately, though, it seems like almost all theaters at all levels are subjecting paying customers to what amounts to 15-minute solicitations before people are allowed to see what they came to see.

It happens at community theaters and at major performing arts centers. At a recent show at American Stage in St. Petersburg (not to single that company out, it's just one recent example) a 70-minute show was preceded by three curtain speeches -- two live and one recorded. The recorded one repeated information from the live ones.

I was wondering if I was just being a curmudgeon, or if other people were noticing this trend and were likewise annoyed. I posted a comment on my Facebook page and got immediate reaction from my friends, many of whom are theater professionals.

Turns out they're every bit as annoyed as I am.

"I know that they are necessary, but they should be brief," wrote David Jenkins, the artistic director of Jobsite Theatre in Tampa. "Theaters that schlep out two and three people for 10-15 minutes give me one more reason to not want to go to the theater."

Jenkins gives curtain speeches regularly. They're maybe a minute long. He welcomes people, perhaps acknowledges a major sponsor, reminds people to turn of their electronic devices (redundant but still worth the five seconds), tells your where the bathrooms are and starts the show. Even if you've heard the spiel 100 times it's painless.

It's true, as one friend pointed out, that curtain speeches allow latecomers to be seated.

"But why make the people who arrived on time suffer?" asked Kerry Glamsch, a director and theater professor. "Curtain speeches are like making people watch ads before a movie. If you're going to do them, at least make them entertaining."

Several other people agreed theater companies should be expected to at least make curtain speeches enjoyable.

"Make it a reason to come on time, not a reason to come late," one friend wrote.

My friend Janet Costin said she saw a show at Ruth Eckerd Hall recently. "Not only was the curtain speech annoying as usual," she said, "they asked you to text the word LOVE to a particular number for a chance to win tickets to another show. It was actually a way for them to get your cell number so they could solicit you for other events. Pretty tacky."

One thing that surprised me was that some actors commented that the curtain speeches are even harder on them. They're backstage, ready to go on, full of nerves, creative energy and emotion, and someone is on their stage droning on about a show that's coming up in 16 months.

The most succinct comment came from a former actor who lives in New York. Apparently she sees the trend there, too.

"Anything beyond 'good evening, thank you for coming'," she wrote, "is rude."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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