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What is a Curtain Call?

A curtain call is the magical moment in theater when performers return to the stage after the final act, basking in the audience's applause. It's a heartfelt tradition that honors the connection between artist and spectator, celebrating the shared experience of live performance. Ever wondered what emotions swirl behind those bows and smiles? Join us as we take a peek behind the curtain.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

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.

Football players’ end zone dances after touchdowns are considered a form of curtain call.
Football players’ end zone dances after touchdowns are considered a form of curtain call.

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.

Some theater performances feature only a few performers, called ensemble casts.
Some theater performances feature only a few performers, called ensemble casts.

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.

A baseball player may be asked by the fans to take a curtain call after he hits a home run.
A baseball player may be asked by the fans to take a curtain call after he hits a home run.

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.

Some theater performances feature only a few performances.
Some theater performances feature only a few performances.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a curtain call in the context of theater or live performances?

A football player celebrating after a big play is in some ways considered a curtain call.
A football player celebrating after a big play is in some ways considered a curtain call.

A curtain call is the moment at the end of a theatrical or live performance when performers come back on stage after the conclusion of the show. They do this to acknowledge the audience's applause and take a bow. This tradition is a sign of appreciation and respect between the audience and the performers, and it often varies in style depending on the production and cultural norms.

How long does a typical curtain call last?

The duration of a curtain call can vary widely depending on the performance, the enthusiasm of the audience, and the tradition of the venue. Typically, a curtain call lasts anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. In some cases, particularly after a highly acclaimed performance, multiple curtain calls can occur, extending the time the audience spends applauding and the performers spend bowing and acknowledging the crowd.

Is there a specific etiquette that audiences should follow during a curtain call?

Yes, there is a certain etiquette associated with curtain calls. Audience members are generally expected to remain in their seats and continue applauding until the performers have taken their final bows and left the stage. Standing ovations are a common way to show exceptional appreciation for a performance. It's considered polite to wait for the curtain call to conclude before exiting the theater.

Do all stage performances include a curtain call?

While most stage performances include a curtain call as a traditional element, there are exceptions. Some experimental or non-traditional productions may choose to omit the curtain call to maintain a certain artistic effect or due to the nature of the performance. However, in conventional theater settings, curtain calls are a standard practice and are expected by the audience.

Can performers personalize their curtain call?

Performers often personalize their curtain calls, adding unique touches that reflect their characters or the nature of the performance. While there is usually a choreographed order to how performers appear and bow, individual gestures, waves, or even dance moves can be incorporated. These personalizations add to the charm of the curtain call and can enhance the connection between the performers and the audience.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseTour writer.

Learn more...
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseTour writer.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

golf07

We have a local community childrens theater where all of the parts are played by kids. This theater has really grown since it first started, and when my son was younger he had parts in several of their performances.

All of the kids always look forward to the curtain call at the end of the show. It is fun to see all of their smiling faces and the sense of accomplishment they have from a job well done. They are so proud when they come out on stage and take a final bow!

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    • Football players’ end zone dances after touchdowns are considered a form of curtain call.
      By: adam121
      Football players’ end zone dances after touchdowns are considered a form of curtain call.
    • Some theater performances feature only a few performers, called ensemble casts.
      By: s2artstudio
      Some theater performances feature only a few performers, called ensemble casts.
    • A baseball player may be asked by the fans to take a curtain call after he hits a home run.
      By: steven hendricks
      A baseball player may be asked by the fans to take a curtain call after he hits a home run.
    • Some theater performances feature only a few performances.
      By: diego cervo
      Some theater performances feature only a few performances.
    • A football player celebrating after a big play is in some ways considered a curtain call.
      By: Brocreative
      A football player celebrating after a big play is in some ways considered a curtain call.