The curtain speech.
Directors hate them. Fundraisers swear by them. And board members often get called on to make them. Done badly, they kill the excitement that fills a theatre before a live performance. Done well, they help the audience connect with the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
The curtain speech is much like the “elevator speech” exercise: you have 90 seconds to engage your listener and entice them to become involved in your project. What will you say?
Here is how to give a great curtain speech:
Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Be direct, be brief, be charming.
Give the audience members only what they need to to be safe, have fun, and connect more closely with your organization. Do not use this time to educate them on the finer points of the event; use pre-performance talks, Q-and-A after-sessions, and program notes for that.
Patricia Feld, artistic director at the Edge Center for the Arts, insists the curtain speech should be no longer than two minutes, “and so well rehearsed with a clock that they really are two minutes.”
Actor, director, and mystery-writer David Ingram suggests giving the curtain speech “with humor, or if you can’t manage humor, be charming. . . The director of the Little Theater on the Square opens every performance with a short curtain speech. It works because he’s personable, most of the audience has been attending for years, and he uses humor. The relationship he has with the audience makes it work . . .”
Introduce Yourself and Welcome the Audience
Good evening! Welcome to the “wildly unexpected” Edge Center for the Arts! I’m Russ White, one of the dozens of your friends and neighbors working on stage and behind the scenes. We are delighted you are here!
Simple hospitality. People like to be welcomed, to be told out loud that you know they are there and that they belong.
Remind the Audience of What’s Happening
Tonight’s performance is only the latest event at the Edge Center. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed musicals like The Music Man or plays like Circle Mirror Transformation. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the art gallery out front, or the classic movie series, or visiting artists like the Tu Dance Company.
Let the audience know if there is something exceptional about this performance, but leave the details to the program notes. Recall recent popular productions, highlight upcoming events, announce returning favorites. Remember, the point of the curtain speech is to nurture the ongoing relationship with the audience. Helping regular attendees to remember their pleasant experiences reinforces their positive perceptions of your organization. First-time attendees will get a feel for the range of experiences available to them as they discover reasons to come back.
Make the Ask – Option 1: Tell the Audience What it Costs to Operate for a Year
This year it costs about $110,000 to bring shows to the Edge Center theatre and gallery. Some of that comes from grants, some from donors, and some from ticket sales for tonight’s performance.
By telling the audience what it costs to run the organization for a year, you make it easier for them to give in two ways. First, you have asked them to give without actually asking them to give. Second, you help them estimate how much to give.
Most audience members have no idea what it costs to run an arts organization. By knowing the total budget amount, audience members gain a sense of what it possible. Whether they can give $10 or $10,000, you have invited them to imagine their part in achieving that total. Make this a part of every ask the organization makes.
Make the Ask – Option 2: Tell the Audience About a Specific Need
To keep improving the quality of productions you love, this year we need to buy ten new lighting instruments. To make this happen, we need to raise $2500 in next six weeks.
As an alternative, give your audience a chance to help the organization fill a specific need. Need new equipment? Have a new program in development? Make the ask.
Invite the Audience to Become More Involved
If you’d like to help, or to find out more about coming attractions and ways to volunteer, please fill out the card in your program and put it in the basket as you leave the theatre tonight.
Along with the verbal invitation, provide the means for a response. Hold up a copy of the inquiry card or envelope that should be in every program. The house manager should have ushers or volunteers with collection baskets posted near each of the exits at intermission and after the performance. These ushers should hold up a card as the audience exits, reminding people to drop in their inquiry cards. Get those names and addresses for future contact! (Pro Tip: Use business reply postcards or envelopes to increase the chances that individuals send in the cards after the leaving the venue. The marketing department will be all over this.)
Intermission, Exits, and Cell Phones
And finally: If you have a cellphone, please turn it off now. Photography, video recording, and small pets are not permitted in the theatre. There is an emergency exit on each aisle at the rear of the theatre, and one at the front. Thanks again for being a part of this performance at the Edge Center!
At the conclusion, give all the necessary admonishments and safety instructions. In some locales, the law requires a pre-performance announcement with specific public-safety information. Check with the house manager for details.
10-Minute Board Discussion
Do we know our organization well enough that any one of us could give an effective curtain speech on short notice?
Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Sean_Warren
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I do give time and money to the Edge Center for the Arts. Otherwise, I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”