December 11, 2009
MARTIN WYATT, Community Ensemble Participant
An important part of any performance, I believe, is the bow at the end. This is the opportunity for the audience to show its appreciation (or not) for the fine performance it has just enjoyed (or not).
And when it comes to opera, the sheer number of bodies on stage is usually more than other types of shows. And the theatres tend to be big too, so there are more pairs of hands out there in the dark clapping furiously (or not!).
So it has always intrigued me how such a vast company manages to bow perfectly in time. Do they follow the lead of one of the soloists? Do they count to 10 and dip? Or is it entirely instinctive – are they so in tune (pardon the pun) that they just know when to bow?
Well now I have had the opportunity to experience this from the other side, I can reveal the secret. Standing in the wings are a team of gallant stage managers and assistant stage managers who keep the show running all night. And when it comes to the bows they’re still there, yelling at the tops of their voices ‘All bow!’ And we do. It’s as simple as that…
But it occurred to me last night, as we bowed on cue, that these poor souls never get a chance for a bow themselves. This hardly seems fair to me, as they have worked just as hard (even harder) than everyone else on stage. They have been with us at every rehearsal, both in West Hampstead and at the Coliseum. They have been there for every performance, and we rely on them to get us on and off stage exactly on cue. They push things, lift things, light candles, and yank golden lilies into the air. And not one hand clap is awarded them.
So here goes.
To our glorious, funny, energetic and totally adorable stage manager Phillip; to his assistant James; to his deputies Molly, Fran and Rory; and to all the other men and women in black backstage – sorry I don’t know all your names – please accept my applause.
And while we’re on the subject of unsung heroes…to the gents dresser Clive, to the Community Ensemble chaperones Danielle, David and Alex – my heartfelt and hearty applause.
And last, but by no means least, to the Community Ensemble Project Manager Jana Phillips – who has also been there from the first audition to the last night tonight, and has kept us all happy, energised, enthusiastic, and connected – a standing ovation!
More thoughts about the bow…
The bow is also an opportunity for the company on stage to confirm its hierarchy – the order in which performers are presented to the audience for their applause is an indication of the relative importance of the role they have played in the performance.
Having been involved in a number of theatrical performances – though none as spectacular as the ENO Messiah – I know the importance of getting this right, both for the artists and the audience. I have seen many a fine production scuppered at the last minute by scrappy and under-rehearsed bows. And I have also seen performers clearly miffed by their placing in the scheme of things, ahead of other performers who they clearly thought were of lesser importance.
Many West End musicals now use the bows as an excuse to reprise a medley of the songs from the show. These medleys even appear on the original cast album as the show ‘megamix’. I rather like this – it gives a structure to the bows and is a bit more fun for the audience than just a parade of performers trooping down to the footlights.
I have even seen one opera performance where they decided to reprise the overture during the bows. This, however, turned out to be a mistake. The conductor, of course, was onstage receiving his applause, so the orchestra was conducted by the leader. Unfortunately, her reading of the piece was much more effective than the conductor’s had been at the start of the evening, and she got a much bigger round of applause then he did!