Bows are, apparently, the most difficult part of putting on any show. For starters, they are most likely the least rehearsed thing that you will be presenting on the stage that day. You can also add into the equation the fact that the bows are not written into the book or the score, so there is no preexisting idea of how they should be done. Wait, let me rephrase that. There are over one hundred preexisting ideas of how they should be done, and at some point you are going to be grumbled to about all of them.
Last night I sang a concert that has rehearsed for weeks and months. We had three or four rehearsals just this past week, in fact. The bows were, as is tradition, not discussed until the last five minutes of the last rehearsal. The chorus was sitting on stage already and the ten or so principal soloists had left for the wings after the last note, so now we had to decide how to go back out on stage and bow. The conductor was still rehearsing the orchestra, and there was no director, as this was a concert version, so that left it up to the actual singers to do something. I don’t know if you know many singers, but this was clearly a terrible idea.
At first it was decided that, since the leads ended up mostly in couples at the end of the show, we should go out in couples to bow. I think the first couple of couples went out coupled, but somehow, halfway through the pseudo-bow-rehearsal, we changed our minds and started going out one at a time. Obviously when we got down to the last few of us there was some, ahem, discussion, as to who ought to go out last, but I accidentally won that debate by allowing my wonderful female colleague to go ahead of me. Aren’t I a gentleman?
So the actual performance arrives and nobody really has any idea what to do about the bows. Some of us think we are still going out in couples, some of us think we are going out one at a time, and nobody knows what order to do it in. Luckily everyone had an opinion. And a few moments before we went on stage to begin the performance, the conductor came to the green room and told us how we were going to be doing the bows. We were to leave the stage, and then wait for the chorus to be acknowledged, followed by the orchestra. Then we would hear music again, which would be our cue to come out one at a time and take our bows. I think at least half of us were in the room to hear these new instructions.
As soon as the conductor had left the room for the stage, his wife came in and informed us that the bows were way too messy with everyone coming out one at a time, and our new instructions were to come out all together in a single line, then each take our individual bow, grab hands all together, and finally bow once in unison. So that was slightly different then.
The show ended. We all danced off the stage to thunderous applause, and then everybody tried to do something different. Whispered hissing and annoyed contradictions ensued and so it was finally decided that, since the conductor’s wife had been the last one to have an opinion, we were going to do it her way. But not everyone had been there to hear her way. So we all walked onto stage in a line and stood there awkwardly. You see, the person on the far end of the line, who should have been first to bow, never got the memo about the new plan. So she stood there smiling at the audience while the rest of us on stage whispered at this oblivious person: “bow…Bow…BOW! BOW!”
She never did. After filing onstage in a confused line we all just stood there for a very long and uncomfortable time and then eventually gave up and just wandered off the stage. Or some of us did anyway. We did not walk off stage in our line. I think we all individually gave up on the idea of bowing at different times, so the walk off stage was more of a traffic jam of a clump than a line. It was highly unsatisfying.
I don’t know that the situation will ever change, and most bows are not quite as catastrophic as last night’s were, but bows are not as important as the show anyway, right? Except, if you’re going to do them, it is going to be the last thing that the audience sees. The performers need a chance to be recognized, and the audience needs a chance to recognize. It’s an important, somewhat cathartic, part of the process. And you really don’t want your audience going home with cheers and bravos trapped in their hearts, focused on the cluster that bumbled around on stage rather than the excellent show that they just saw.