Giving the Curtain Speech


{Featured image courtesy Pixabay and used under a CC0 public domain license.}

Note: as of June 2010, this article will be published in the August 2010 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).

While ArtsMarketing is a great site for anyone wanting to promote their arts organization, filled with advice and ideas, I have an issue with one particular piece of advice given in the article from April 15, 2010, which I’m just now getting around to reading “Building Audiences One Encounter at a Time” — the curtain speech.

As someone wanting to promote my theatre, I understand the reasoning behind this piece of advice. As Smith writes, it is a captive audience and a perfect time for promoting your organization, upcoming shows, and the ability to donate to the organization.

However, as someone who attends theatre, I also know that curtain speeches — as with anything else — follow Sturgeon’s Law. Most of the curtain speeches I’ve seen are hammy/corny, too long, and — the worst part — make me even less willing to give, as it tends to lead to compassion fatigue as I hear how much trouble the organization is in and how only my donation can help.

Photo courtesy Colin Knowles' Flickr account, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
Photo courtesy Colin Knowles’ Flickr account and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

So, if you’re determined to make a curtain speech, here are some tips for making it effective.

  • Make it brief: for the love of Thespis, PLEASE make it brief. If you’re still there after four minutes, you’ve most likely gone on too long.
  • Make it entertaining: this is a partial corollary to the above, as you can get away with a longer speech if it’s humorous. One of the best curtain speeches I’ve ever heard was when I was in LA for my fellowship at the NEA Institute. While waiting at the Reprise Theatre Company for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, I was surprised to have none other than Jason Alexander (yes, that Jason Alexander) give the curtain speech. It was quick paced and filled with jokes (after all, it was Jason Alexander) — but even this one went on a bit too long.
  • Hit the highlights: this helps in being brief, but also helps with combating compassion fatigue. Plug where they can go for more information and only hit two or three items (giving, upcoming show, and where to go for more info on the above — and if you’re not going to stick around, point out who is going to be there should an audience member want to talk to someone that night).

The curtain speech is a good marketing tool, but like any other marketing tool, it needs to engage the audience — not put them off. So think twice when coming up with your organization’s speech.