Everyone likes to feel like they saw something special.

I went to see Paul Simon last night.

And after the hour and a half set of killer music, we got to the perfunctory encore.  Paul came and went a couple more times to tumultuous applause and gave us a couple more tunes.

It was great.

But I had to think about how special encores felt before they were status quo.  An audience member had to think, “Oh my . . . I’m seeing something that doesn’t usually happen!  I’m special!”

And when you’re a part of something special, what do you do?  You talk about it.

Theater audiences like to feel special too, especially since, let’s face it, they know they’re getting a product that is part of an eight-show-a-week assembly line.

Encores are a little tricky in our business . . . because it doesn’t make much sense in a show to save our best song for after the curtain call.  Repeating a song would be interesting, and some have tried with reprises or the more involved mega mix.

But what else can we do to make the audience feel that they are seeing something special that every other audience doesn’t get to see, so that they’ll be more inclined to talk-about-it?  (Slight digression, but do you want to break out into this song every time someone says “talk about?”)

Well, there’s the planned “mistake,” where a screw-up is written into the script, like in Will Rogers Follies, when a dog from the dog act made an “unexpected” entrance in a scene . . . eight times a week.  Or in Falsettos, when a crash offstage made it look like some scenery had gone astray.  These always get people talking since it is one of the reasons we go to the theater in the first place (and for more on this, read this blog I wrote three years ago).

Shows with audience participation have this built-in to their structure, since no two audiences will ever see the same show . . . which can create some fun competition between audience members. (“I saw a better show!”  “No, I did!”)

Impressive understudies often create unique performances, but no one is gonna want to make a habit of putting on a understudy to jump start some word of mouth (hmmmmm . . .).

Everyone likes to feel that the products they buy (especially luxury products, like theater tickets) are just for them.  It’s why custom suits, monogrammed shirts and engraved jewelry are popular.

If we could somehow make our audience feel like every night was like a custom made golf club, our patrons would show that off much more.


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  • Jose says:

    I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to know which “number” performance you’re attending – without having to check the stage manager’s log or the callboard. Yes, your ticket stub lists the date and time, but it doesn’t tell you that you’re at the 10th or 456th or 2,867th performance. Only the milestones (100, 500, 1000) seem to be noted. -I always find it informative – in a trivially good way – when I go to a concert at the New York Philharmonic, open the program, and see that I’m attending the “15,184th” concert by the NYPhil. Just that extra bit of information lets me know that that what I’m about to hear is a truly once-in-a-lifetime event.

  • I think Million Dollar Quartet has got this market pegged right now. They routinely have guest artists do a mini performance after a show. I was there for one of them, and it really had the audience excited.

  • I think allowing the few talented improvisational performers to let loose is always a good thing. Remember how we used to regularly hear about what Jackie Hoffman said in XANADU? Remember how we heard about how Jackie Hoffman had her wings clipped in THE ADDAM’S FAMILY? Though I enjoyed that show, she probably would have come up with many things funnier than what was actually on stage.
    I liked post-curtain call encores. I want to leave the theatre energized and thrilled. The encore to the SHREK tour did much to make up for a bland, soul-less show.

  • “American Idiot” had a remarkable curtain call that almost seemed like an encore. The entire cast played acoustic guitars and sang the Green Day song with the refrain “I hope you had the time of your life.” It *was* special – an opportunity for audience and actors to communicate beyond just applause and “bravos”. I saw the show twice and both times the audience sang along.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    I had planned on going to this concert for my birthday yesterday but decided to go to the Davneport Theatrical writer/director speen date instead. Glad I did.

  • Bonnie says:

    Let anyone submit a question to be answered, and cast members can answer 1 or 2 questions at the end of the show.
    Orchestra conductor, if visible, does something unexpected, wears a hat related to show, conducts for a moment in a funny way, dances along, etc.
    sign comes down at end saying something like “thanks for being a great audience”
    cast members, like they do when collecting for AIDS, greet you at the door as you leave.
    some audience members find “door prizes” under their seat.
    Choose 1 audience member to come up on stage after show
    and be able to say one line from the show.

  • kim says:

    Glasses or t-shirts that have the exact date of that day or night’s show listed on them. Of course they will be in limited supply, thus making people want them more. The others can get the “general t-shirt”. Or what about engraving? Or the cast signs the CD with that days date on it?

  • Dani says:

    I completely understand the desire to feel like you’re witnessing something special. I will not attempt here to give suggestions on how to make that happen. I just want to share a story that is one of my favorite “special” theatre moments. This is the kind of thing that you know won’t be repeated in exactly the same way. We saw “The Sweet Smell of Success” (for the second time)the day after the Tony Awards. John Lithgow had won for Best Actor in a Musical the night before. At the top of the show, Lithgow is seated downstage on the corner of a desk. The rest of the cast is assembled upstage. When the curtain went up, the audience went wild, giving a loud and lengthy ovation for his win. After a while of no letup from the audience, John Lithgow broke character, came to the front of the stage, and acknowledged the kudos. He then invited the rest of the cast to come forward, take a bow, and share in the moment. They then went back into their places, took a beat, and started the show. It was a great moment and often gives me goosebumps when I tell the story. Since then, I’ve thought about trying to figure out who would be the most likely Tony winner and buying a ticket for the show for the day after the awards.

  • Melissa says:

    I have to agree that I wasn’t expecting the entire American Idiot cast to come out with guitars and play Good Riddance, and having seen it several times, it was different every time, especially with Billie Joe Armstrong leading the group.
    However, I think most theatergoers have to go after those one of a kind moments themselves – whether that is attending a Tony-winning show the day after the awards, a lead actor’s last performance, or a show’s milestone performance. I was at Alice Ripley’s final Next to Normal performance, which was such a dream, and so very special, but I made it happen myself.
    Plus, what makes a show special to someone varies for everyone, you never know what is going to make an experience one of a kind for someone, that’s the magic of live theater!
    *thanks for the “talk about…pop music!” throwback, now the mash-up of that song with J-Lo’s “Play” I did in show choir 8yrs ago will be stuck in my head all night…

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    This is so true. I recently saw the tour of “Billy Elliott,” with an understudy as the older brother. He walked away with the show, and was the audience favorite.
    The best cyrano I have ever seen was an understudy. I had seen the actor who was supposed to play him many times before, and pretty much knew what he would do with it. But this guy was an unknown quantity, and completely original in his take. The fact that he had to call out “line” five or six times, only drew the audience in all the more. It was thrilling.
    I saw a “Merchant of Venice” where the dresser didn’t have Portia’s costume ready in time for her courtroom scene, and they had to play it with Shylock having wrapped his caped arm around her for the whole scene. Riveting, as it forced the actors to make entirely new choices.
    I really don’t think you can plan these things though. What makes them work is the spontaneity; and by definition, that can’t be designed.

  • Meg says:

    I think I almost commented on the posts about the performances of Gypsy and A Steady Rain about this phenom. THOSE audiences must have felt like they were seeing something truly unique and, perhaps, special…until the videos leaked. Then it was no longer their story to tell.

  • Michael says:

    Encores used to be a regular part of musical theatre. Songs like “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” for exaample, had extra choruses that were not performed until after the original song had ended and the audience had applauded sufficiently to bring the performer back on for an encore. When shows are revived now, all the choruses are performed together and there is nothing left for an encore.

  • Frayne McCarthy says:

    I was in Les Miserables in Montreal twenty years ago, and one night we had a complete power-failure that lasted 45 minutes. When the power came back, so did the full audience… and very few people asked for refunds of tickets to another night. In fact, I still sometimes hear people tell me how they were there on “that night”, and what an amazing night of theatre they experienced. Truly, that night was a little extra-special for all of us, and the standing ovation we got at the end was especially enthusiastic. The audience felt like they too had triumphed in this blip of adversity! So, you’re right. You’re so right.

  • Impressive understudies often create unique performances, but no one is gonna want to make a habit of putting on a understudy to jump start some word of mouth (hmmmmm . . .).

  • Donald says:

    wow. this blog exists for 3 years now? I wish I could also be active for that span of year. I’m just a new blogger 😀

  • Howard Olah-Reiken says:

    Well, first of all, I’ll go on record to say I enjoyed Ken’s YouTube digression, but I have to admit that when I hear the phrase “Talk About It” my nostalgia tuner goes right to:

    Back on topic, there’s always Hair’s encore, getting audience members up into the big dance after the show. In the “accidents can be fun” department, I just saw and thoroughly enjoyed Catch Me If You Can, and in the final dance number Norbert Leo Butz could not keep his glasses on his sweaty face. I had good enough seats to enjoy the improvised (hmmm, was it?) teasing of him by Aaron Tveit. Although it’s nice to see a show go off without a hitch, it was fun seeing him work his way through that number while fumbling with those specs. I see alot of shows these days, and that bit of accidental (hmmm, was it?) business was something I “talked about”, just ’cause it was an extra hoot!

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