Is It Ever Okay to Leave a Performance During Curtain Call?

July 1, 2019

Last week, I attended a show I’d been eagerly anticipating: Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise at The Shed, a brand-new performance venue in New York City. Not only was I looking forward to Akram Khan’s choreography (not to mention a sword-wielding PeiJu Chien-Pott and remixes of Sia’s music), but I was anxious to get a taste of The Shed’s ambitious inaugural season.

Despite the slick marketing and big names involved, Dragon Spring fell short, with its cheesy dialogue, disjointed pacing and problematic narrative.

But something that evening bothered me far more than what was happening onstage.

As soon as the performance ended, the audience was out of their seats, leaving in droves. Was there free ice cream outside the theater? Was a celebrity doing a meet-and-greet? Or had the building spontaneously burst into flames making a swift exit necessary? I can attest that none of these were true.

To be clear, this wasn’t just the usual contingent of a few antsy folks who dash when the curtain falls. Nearly half of the audience was bolting without so much as clapping for the performers.

It begs a few questions: Did they really hate the show that much? And, if so, does that justify skipping the curtain call? Or, was The Shed pulling in a different audience than regular theatergoers who are familiar with this etiquette? Perhaps the exodus was related to the venue: Its McCourt performance space borders on the informal. The transformable space feels like a cavernous shell, and its temporary seating on risers mimics that of an amusement park, where shows are consumed before visitors swiftly move on to the next attraction.

Call me cranky, but regardless of how you feel about a show’s direction or cohesiveness, the performers deserve more respect. Hating a show doesn’t negate the hours the cast has spent in the rehearsal studio—in Chien-Pott’s case, her martial arts training for Dragon Spring began in January—nor does it erase the energy they pour into that evening’s very performance.

If you’re truly unenthused by a show, you do not have to clap. But remain in your seat—at least out of respect for the performers, so they don’t have to see you leaving.

And yes, your opinion about the production—the choreography, the lighting, the sound, the direction, the costumes and sets—not solely the performance of it, can, does and should play into your applause and whoops and hollers.

With anything, there are always exceptions. And so I have penned a list of acceptable reasons for you to leave amidst the curtain call:

– Your baby has just thrown up on another patron.

– You are having a medical emergency.

– You are in imminent danger.

– You might miss the train.*

*If the curtain call is the slim margin between you catching or missing the last train of the night, we’ll grant you an exception. But be aware that you may be silently judged.

If a show is incredibly offensive to you, and you cannot bear to witness it, it is your right to leave. Whenever you want, even as it’s unfolding. But, if you’ve sat through the entire thing, have the decency to remain through the curtain call. This craft is rigorous, and it is worthy of your respect.