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But What If I Don’t Want the Applause?

David J. McGraw • Stage Manager’s Kit • October 7, 2016
Audience applauding
Why do I hate it when audiences applaud the SM?

With International Stage Management Day occurring this past Monday, there is something that I need to get off my chest:  I HATE being acknowledged during curtain call.

But why?  It is not that I dislike having my hard work acknowledged: if a director or producer wants to single me out during Opening (or even better, Closing) celebrations, I will sheepishly grin and accept the praise.  I will negotiate to get a prominent location for my name on the cast page of the program.  And if October 10th becomes known as the day to thank your stage manager, I may blush at the attention but be appreciative that our field is recognized and respected.  I am fully supportive of gesturing towards the pit orchestra, just as I believe all true theatre lovers should stay to applaud the post-curtain exit music.  But I abhor it when casts point backstage or to the booth during curtain call.

My main objection is that the line of talented people who are needed to produce a show is so long, it seems arbitrary to stop the praise at the stage manager.  Why not applaud for the wardrobe crew down in the dressing rooms, the followspot operators tucked into the grid, or even the box office staff?  One could argue that a gesture to the wings signifies everyone who works behind the scenes.  But does the audience understand who all those people are?  Should we all step out into the limelight?

Another part of the issue might be the perceived function of a curtain call.  Some curtain calls are simple ensemble group bows while others separate performers for individual bows with growing levels of applause that build to the emergence of the star performer.  But all curtain calls are a means for the audience to show their approval and to assert to themselves and their fellow audience members that what they just witnessed was good.  I have seen well-choreographed curtain calls convince an audience that a good show was a great show and ending on a high note gets people talking positively on the way out the door.  So gesturing to the stage manager seems a bit anticlimactic, at least unless my own mother is in the audience.

I remain torn: I truly appreciate the acknowledgement when a cast member or the director suggests it during staging, but I don’t actually enjoy my “moment” in the least.  I especially hate it when I am view of the audience, since I am often too busy calling the walk-out cues to acknowledge the applause and I don’t want to appear jaded.

Am I alone in this feeling – should I just get over it and accept the gesture?  Or do you also cringe when the cast points in your direction?

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