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:
The Curtain Speech is an Invitation
Be direct, be brief, be charming.
A great curtain speech is an invitation for your audience to connect — with your event, with each other, and with your organization. It is a moment to let audience members know how to be safe, how to be a tea ease, and how to be generous. Do not use this time to educate your guests 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?
P.S. Antoinette Kerr offers a similar post on how to prepare your board for media interviews. Click here to read it.
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.”
Charmaine Tilly says
Thank you!! I am a brand new drama teacher and our first performance is tomorrow night. This is immensely helpful.
Cyrus White says
Charmaine — thanks for the encouraging feedback on my “How to Give a Great Curtain Speech” post. That was almost a year ago, and you mentioned that you were in your first year as the drama teacher. How is it going? What are you doing now for curtain speeches?
Kennith Perry says
We are building a new community theatre here and I’m on the Board of Directors. I’ve been asked to give a speech but was having trouble deciding what to say until now, thanks.
Cyrus White says
Thank you for posting, Kennith! Have you made your speech yet? How did it go? How did you customize it?
Kelly Boyer Sagert says
Thank you very much! I need to give exactly this kind of speech on Friday night. Much appreciated!
Cyrus White says
How did it go, Kelly? How did you feel after your curtain speech?
This is so helpful! Thank you – four curtain speeches are coming up this weekend!
Cyrus White says
That’s a big weekend, Christy! Have a great show!
My husband and I are the children’s pastors of a small country church and we’re trying to make this year’s kids’ Christmas program all it can be. Thanks for the pointers! I feel much more confident about this task now.